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Yushchenko Speaks of Orange Coalition

KIEV -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko said on Sunday that his party would hold talks with its former Orange Revolution allies on forming a coalition after parliamentary elections, but he did not rule out other options.

Yushchenko, speaking to reporters after casting his ballot at a Kiev polling station, said that talks between representatives of the Orange Revolution forces would begin in the presidential administration Monday.

"The most important thing is the maximum engagement of democratic forces in forming a coalition," he said.

He also said several options for a coalition would be considered -- an apparent signal that he is keeping the door open for an alliance with Viktor Yanukovych, his pro-Moscow rival in the 2004 presidential vote.

The vote could potentially allow Yanukovych to slow the pro-Western course that Yushchenko has set and to pursue improved ties with Moscow.

Ukrainians stood in long lines Sunday to cast ballots in the parliamentary elections. Turnout topped 58 percent by 8 p.m., Central Elections Commission head Yaroslav Davydovych said. Polls were to close at 10 p.m. (11 p.m. Moscow time).

Yushchenko insisted that despite predictions his party would not win a majority, the election was still a victory because it was under his watch that Ukraine was holding its most democratic vote.

"I feel great. It's the kind of feeling you have before a victory," said Yushchenko, who wore an orange tie and stood beside his American-born wife as he voted at Kiev's Independence Square. "Democratic elections always mean victory."

Yushchenko's job is not at stake, but the vote is the first since constitutional reforms trimmed presidential powers and gave broader authority to the parliament, including the right to name the prime minister and much of the Cabinet.

Yushchenko, who retains the right to set the nation's foreign policy and appoint the foreign and defense ministers, pledged that the nation would continue on its Westward path.

"The vote results will have no impact whatsoever on Ukraine's foreign policy course," he said.

Yanukovych has made a startling comeback in the parliamentary election campaign and his Party of the Regions was set to emerge as the top vote-getter, with about 30 percent of ballots, according to most polls. While falling short of a majority that would allow it to form its own Cabinet, his party will likely emerge as a key force in any future coalition.

Yushchenko's Our Ukraine party and the party of Yulia Tymoshenko, the flamboyant, blond-braided heroine of the Orange Revolution's mass protests, are expected to win more votes combined than Yanukovych. However, Yushchenko and Tymoshenko had a bitter falling out when the president abruptly fired her last September, and many analysts said that chances for a coalition between them appeared dim.

Ihor Prikordonny, a 68-year-old retiree, said he voted for Yushchenko's party but was against the president's striking an alliance with Yanukovych.

"Yanukovych has discredited himself and lacks education and culture," he said.

Tymoshenko portrays herself as a victim of ruthless and corrupt clans, a martyr's image that along with her prowess in public speaking helped her retain strong public support.

"Yulia is our last hope," Iryna Petrova, a 64-year old retiree, said after voting for Tymoshenko's bloc in downtown Kiev.

Independent voters rights group Committee of Ukrainian Voters reported isolated problems, saying its biggest concern was the long lines that forced most voters to wait for more than hour to cast their long ballots that contained the names of the 45 parties.

In a bid to give voters more time, the Central Elections Commission extended voting by three hours.

Party of the Regions campaign official Vasily Dzharty complained the lines might turn away thousands. "Not everyone can endure it," he said.

Russia, still reeling from a humiliating defeat it suffered in the 2004 presidential election when a court annulled Yanukovych's fraud-tainted victory and ordered a repeat vote, avoided direct meddling in the campaign. But it worked actively behind the scenes.

In what was widely interpreted as an attempt to pressure Yushchenko, Russia forced Ukraine to pay double for its gas imports at the start of the year.

The United States, which had celebrated the Orange Revolution as the onward march of democracy, also turned its attention on Ukraine. In recent weeks, Washington offered Kiev market-economy status, signed a bilateral agreement on Kiev's accession to the World Trade Organization and adopted long-awaited legislation that ended Cold War-era trade restrictions on Ukraine.


(The Moscow Times 27.iii.06)

 
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