Ukraine's "orange" allies upbeat, tough talks loom

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KIEV, Oct 1 (Reuters) ''Orange Revolution'' supporters claimed victory over allies of Ukraine's prime minister in a snap parliamentary election, but the two camps face tough talks today to forge a viable coalition.

President Viktor Yushchenko dissolved parliament in April, accusing his rival, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, of a grab for power by buying the allegiance of parliamentary deputies to boost his majority and change the constitution.

Difficult talks on a government coalition still appear inevitable after the election.

Yanukovich says his Regions Party's first place finish gives it the right to preside over the formation of a new government.

His ''orange'' adversaries, led by former premier Yulia Tymoshenko, reject any such alliance and say they have enough seats to build a coalition on their own.

Ukraine is reeling after months of the latest stand-off pitting Yushchenko, swept to power in the 2004 ''orange'' protests, against Yanukovich, his beaten rival in that upheaval.

Two exit polls appeared to give a slight edge to the combined tally of ''orange'' groups -- about 45 to 40 per cent.

The official count got under way late yesterday, with slightly more than 2 per cent tallied after midnight. The Central Election Commission was to give more details today morning.

Both exit polls put Yanukovich's party in the lead.

Tymoshenko's ''orange'' bloc was a strong second, followed by its ally, the pro-presidential Our Ukraine party.

''I believe no one can diminish or deny the victory Ukraine has scored,'' a beaming Tymoshenko, sporting her trademark braid hairstyle, told reporters. ''Everything will work out. In a matter of weeks we will hold our first government news conference.'' DEFIANCE The prime minister was defiant.

''This significant support from the Ukrainian people ...

gives carte blanche to the Regions Party to form a new, successful government,'' a stern Yanukovich, who took no questions, told journalists.

''As winners of this election -- and I am certain we have won with a strong result -- we have the right to form a coalition.'' The centrist bloc of former parliament speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn staged a surprise by clearing the three percent barrier to win seats in the chamber.

Lytvyn, who was chief of staff to former president Leonid Kuchma, has not said which of the two camps he will back.

''Lytvyn's bloc can equally swing in either direction, because he originally built his campaign on criticism of both the opposition and the ruling coalition,'' said analyst Oleksander Lytvynenko.

''But Lytvyn's first steps will be made in the direction of (orange) democratic forces.'' Adding to the uncertainty, votes from 15 groups that scored less than 3 per cent must be redistributed among the winners.

Differences in orientation towards the West and Russia, key issues in 2004 in this former Soviet state of 47 million, were all but absent from this campaign.

Reuters MP VP0630

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