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Yanukovych May Be Named Prime Minister

KIEV -- Ukraine's pro-Russian Party of the Regions has formed a coalition with two other parties in parliament and proposed its leader, Viktor Yanukovych, as prime minister -- a stunning reversal of fortunes that sets the stage for further political conflict.

"Revolutions and rallies are over. The way to unite all of Ukraine is open," Yanukovych said at a congress of his party in Kiev on Saturday.

If approved as prime minister, Yanukovych promises to mend ties with Moscow that were badly damaged earlier this year when Russia cut off gas supplies to Ukraine over a bitter price dispute.

Yanukovych urged President Viktor Yushchenko -- the rival who beat him out in the bitter 2004 election -- to "rise above your political sympathies and antipathies, do your best so that society finally comes to a mutual understanding."

Yushchenko's chief of staff, Oleh Rybachuk, accused the new coalition partners of being guided by personal ambitions rather than state interests, and predicted the team would soon be shattered due to a lack of common interests.

The coalition, signed Friday, links the Party of the Regions with the Socialist and Communist parties. Coalition leaders said they held 233 seats in the 450-member parliament -- a majority and enough to push through their choice of Yanukovych as prime minister.

The formation of the new coalition is expected to be formally announced at a parliament session Tuesday, and lawmakers are expected to vote on Yanukovych as prime minister. If he is approved, the coalition would then have 30 days to form a government.

Yushchenko, looking downcast in a brief televised interview on Friday evening, warned against a return to the situation that prevailed before the Orange Revolution, when Yanukovych was prime minister under a president whose decade in power was tarnished by government corruption and electoral machinations.

"The democratic achievements we struggled for and got two years ago are in doubt now," Yushchenko said.

He called on all the political forces in parliament to find a compromise and warned that if they did not, he would consider dissolving the legislature.

Yushchenko warned earlier in the day that he could dissolve parliament -- a move that would lead to new elections -- if a government is not formed within a constitutionally mandated period that ends July 20.

Ukraine has been without a new government since March parliamentary elections in which the Party of the Regions won the most seats in parliament but fell short of a majority, prompting Yushchenko to cast around for allies after his party's disappointing third-place showing.

Yushchenko's party formed a coalition late last month with the Socialists and the party of his estranged Orange Revolution ally Yulia Tymoshenko -- its choice for prime minister -- but it unraveled after a group of Socialists refused to support its candidate for parliament speaker Thursday.

Socialist leader Oleksandr Moroz was elected speaker instead, hours after the Party of the Regions ended a 10-day parliament blockade that paralyzed the legislature and prevented the formation of a new Orange government.


(The Moscow Times 10.vii.06)

 
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