Ukraine Rivals Insult Each Other In Final Poll Push

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's two leading contenders for the presidency hurled personal insults at each other on Friday in a final push for support ahead of an election on Sunday.

Yanukovich (L) accuses PM of lying. Tymoshenko (R) ridicules his lack of education.

Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko ridiculed opposition leader Viktor Yanukovich's poor education, saying he was not fit to lead a country that teetered on "a razor-sharp edge of choice".

"I really cannot understand how a European country with such an intellectual level...could elect for itself a person who does not know the difference between Austria and Australia," she said on a TV talk show.

Yanukovich, a former prime minister, defending his refusal to meet Tymoshenko in a TV debate, accused her of lying.

"I have been debating with Tymoshenko for five years. In those five years she has not once told the truth either to me or the country as a whole," said Yanukovich, 59.

Ukraine, a former Soviet republic of 46 million, must decide on a leadership that will help it find its place in mainstream Europe and, at the same time, navigate a prudent course in relations with its old master Russia.

A total of 18 candidates are contesting Sunday's election including President Viktor Yushchenko though he is regarded as having little chance of success.

Opinion polls and analysts say there will be no outright winner on Sunday. Tymoshenko, 49, trails the once-discredited Yanukovich, according to analysts, but both are expected to face each other on Feb. 7 in a run-off.

Opinion polls in Ukraine have been banned by law since Jan. 2. Some analysts have suggested that a dark horse might even emerge to steal second place from Tymoshenko on Sunday -- possibly former central bank chief Sergey Tigipko.

Yanukovich and Tymoshenko have been foes since the 2004 "Orange Revolution" in which she was eulogised as a national saviour and he was disgraced by a rigged election, losing to the pro-Western Yushchenko in an unprecedented third round.

"The country is in great danger. Help me save it," Tymoshenko, her voice hoarse from weeks of fierce campaigning, said in a television appeal.

She said Ukraine risked losing its independence or becoming "a lawful state in the family of European nations".

Tymoshenko, whose trademark is a peasant hair-braid and who wears designer outfits, has run a glitzy campaign of pop jingles and populist slogans.

But it was Yanukovich, a rough-hewn man who media say has benefited from a western PR make-over, who opted for razzamatazz on Friday night, stepping out on stage following a pop music performance on Kiev's St. Sophia's Square.

"In exactly two days, people will come and say their word, and this will pass sentence on those in power who have been unable to efficiently run the country. This will be a step into the future," said an upbeat Yanukovich.


Yanukovich and Tymoshenko want to mend ties with Russia, supplier of most of Ukraine's energy, which dramatically nosedived under nationalist Yushchenko.

In his televised address, Yushchenko hinted at Moscow's strong interest in Ukraine, saying: "The talk is about a threat to energy independence and the loss of property rights for our gas transporting system."

Tymoshenko, who enjoys strong support in western and central Ukraine, has focused her attacks on wealthy industrialists backing Yanukovich.

While Yanukovich may be slow seeking rapprochement with the European Union, Tymoshenko is Euro-enthusiastic and is expected to bolster reforms and mend Ukraine's ties with the International Monetary Fund.

In a swipe at Tymoshenko, he Yanukovich said Kiev's authorities had abased themselves before the EU and the IMF. "Those in power, like beggars, have trotted the globe begging for alms. We are fed up with our neighbours, our partners teaching us how to live in our own country."

Source: BBC