Slight "Orange" lead over PM in Ukraine poll

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KIEV, Oct 2 (Reuters) ''Orange Revolution'' parties held a slight lead over allies of Ukraine's prime minister in a parliamentary election, results showed today, but both sides are claiming victory and the right to form a government.

The tight finish as the count neared completion has dashed hopes the poll would resolve a power struggle between pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich.

Each side says it has the right to form a coalition in the 450-seat assembly on the basis of Sunday's contest and then a government. Long talks are likely to follow.

With 95.2 per cent of the vote counted, the prime minister's Regions Party remained in first place with 34.2 per cent of the vote. Its Communist party ally had a further 5.4 per cent.

The ''Orange'' bloc of ex-premier and opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko had 30.8 percent, but was bolstered by a further 14.3 per cent for the Our Ukraine party, which supports President Yushchenko.

A projection by the authoritative Ukrainska Pravda Internet site said the results would produce 229 seats in parliament for an ''Orange'' coalition -- a majority of three.

Mykhailo Okhendovsky, a member of the Central Election Commission, told Reuters about 2,000 polling stations were still to report their returns.

''The trends remain the same,'' he said. But it's impossible at this point to say who will get through and who won't.'' Another commission member, Zhanna Usenko-Chorna, said the outstanding votes would change little.

''If all goes ahead without any interference, the trends will hold and there will be no significant change in the result,'' she told Reuters.

CENTRISTS GO THROUGH The results showed a minor centrist party, the bloc of former parliament speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn, had cleared the minimum three percent barrier to enter parliament.

But the Socialists, part of the outgoing government coalition led by Yanukovich, fell just short.

Yushchenko issued a statement on Monday ordering an investigation into delays in counting the vote in eastern and southern Ukraine, the prime minister's strongholds.

Poll rigging played a major role in the 2004 presidential election, in which Yushchenko beat Yanukovich after weeks of mass rallies against fraud by protesters clad in orange.

Yanukovich made a comeback when his party came first in a parliamentary election just over a year ago. More than four months of talks were required to form a coalition led by Yanukovich after that poll.

This year's talks may be complicated by the entry of Lytvyn, whose bloc missed out on entering parliament in 2006. He refused to say during the campaign which side he might back and analysts have suggested he may become a kingmaker.

US ambassador William Taylor said Sunday's election had upheld democratic principles, but called for the speedy formation of a government.

''We call on all political parties to move quickly to form a government that reflects the will of Ukrainian voters, in order to address the important issues facing the nation,'' he said in a statement.

Observers from the European Parliament said parties should abide by the results and ''start realising an ambitious national reform agenda''.

REUTERS ARB PM1610

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