UPDATE 1-Ukraine Court Hears Tymoshenko Appeal Against Poll

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko launched a court appeal on Friday aimed at blocking the inauguration of President-elect Viktor Yanukovich and forcing a fresh vote for president.

Ukraine's Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko (bottom) hands over boxes of evidence in a court building in central Kiev.

"I have not come to defend the elections. I have come to defend the future of Ukraine. I do not want the future of my people to be built on lies and fraud," Tymoshenko told journalists before entering Kiev's Higher Administrative Court.

Yanukovich, 59, is due to be sworn into office on Feb. 25 after beating Tymoshenko by a narrow margin of 3.5 percentage points in a runoff vote earlier this month, but the 49-year-old premier says she was robbed of victory by vote rigging.

Yanukovich, who was denied the top job by the 2004 "Orange Revolution" protests against electoral fraud, and his Regions Party have denied any wrongdoing in the Feb. 7 runoff. Tymoshenko is trying to force a third round of voting, as happened in the Orange Revolution which ended with President Viktor Yushchenko being elected.

She is also trying to get declared illegal the official declaration that Yanukovich was elected.

Few commentators expect her to win and most believe the court will throw out the appeal in time for Yanukovich's inauguration to go ahead next Thursday.

Tymoshenko, wearing a black dress with her hair plaited in its trademark peasant braid, sat next to Leonid Kravchuk, a former president, in the courtroom. Others supporting her in court included former foreign minister Borys Tarasiuk.


The court said that while it was reviewing her accusations the official results of the election were suspended.

Analysts say Tymoshenko's stubborn refusal to concede to Yanukovich, whose victory has been recognised by Russia and the West, may be aimed at weakening him as much as possible before he takes office and may not be based on serious hopes of a court victory.

In preparation for Yanukovich's inauguration, parliament voted on Friday to relieve him of his post as a Regions Party deputy -- a necessary move since the president cannot be directly associated with a political party.

Regions Party deputy Vladislav Lukyanov said Tymoshenko's case was a lost cause.

"If the court does not artificially drag things out, it could be all over today or tomorrow," he told journalists. "The inauguration is not in any danger. I personally have already bought my smoking jacket."

Although the court case is not expected to delay the inauguration, Ukraine faces a tough few weeks, if not months, as a new political order takes shape.

Yanukovich's supporters in parliament are trying to win over parties to form a new coalition and if they succeed, a vote of no confidence in Tymoshenko's government is expected.

Investors hope this horsetrading will end within weeks with a stable government capable of bringing back International Monetary Fund lending -- suspended, while the economy suffered its worst recession in 15 years, over broken spending promises.

Source: BusinessWeek