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Ukraine's Tymoshenko seeks to head coalition

Written by: Staff

KIEV, Mar 27 (Reuters) Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko signalled a return to office to form a coalition government after a poll triumph, urging pro-Western liberals to end squabbles and keep out a pro-Russian party.

Tymoshenko said today a coalition deal was ''practically ready'', but the poll outcome put her and other 2004 ''Orange Revolution'' leaders under pressure to deliver on reforms after prising Ukraine from centuries of Russian domination.

Voter disillusionment over ''Orange'' team splits and an economic slowdown hit the liberals and clearly helped Viktor Yanukovich's pro-Russian Regions Party win the largest share of the ballot in the parliamentary elections yesterday.

But exit polls showed the liberals, who have set the former Soviet republic on a course to join the European mainstream, can still control parliament. Further talks between the liberals on a coalition were scheduled for 1100 hrs today.

The exit polls gave Yanukovich's Regions Party 27-31 per cent, the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc 22-24 per cent and President Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine party about 15 per cent. Preliminary results were not expected for two to three days.

The poll outcome was a double humiliation for Yushchenko, who beat Yanukovich in a presidential poll re-run after the December 2004 street protests and who later fell out with Tymoshenko, his former Orange Revolution comrade.

TRADEMARK HAIRSTYLE The 45-year-old Tymoshenko, sporting her trademark braid hairstyle at a late-night news conference, said three liberal parties -- her own bloc, Our Ukraine and the Socialists -- had won enough votes to form a majority government.

She implied she would be back as Prime Minister to head the coalition -- a shot aimed at Yushchenko, who sacked her from the job last September after infighting in ''Orange'' ranks over corruption charges.

''I received very kind words from Roman Bezsmertny, the head of the Our Ukraine campaign staff, who said the bloc that I head had won the election and should take responsibility for matters. We will take that responsibility,'' said Tymoshenko.

But allowing her to be Prime Minister will not be easy given her interventionist views and Yushchenko's free market outlook.

Yushchenko made no immediate comment after the polls but aides said the President also wanted a restored ''Orange'' team and that he could play a decisive role.

Ukraine's export-led economic growth has slowed markedly over the last year due to lower world prices for steel and chemicals, its major exports, and a lack of investment.

Foreign investors have expressed concern over uncertainty in privatisation policy, frequent rows in the government over major policy issues and failure to simplify an opaque legal system.

Yanukovich, strong in Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine, also invited other parties to join a coalition.

But despite his comeback after a shattering defeat in 2004, the strong showing of Tymoshenko's bloc seemed to make this an unlikely prospect.

The day belonged to Tymoshenko, whose oratory electrified thousands in Kiev in the Orange Revolution.

Her strong showing effectively meant she took over as standard-bearer of the ''Orange'' liberals from Yushchenko and he now has little choice but to paper over differences with her.

''Two versions are realistically possible -- either a failure to form a government and a dissolution of parliament or a government headed by Tymoshenko,'' said analyst Hleb Vyshlynsky, of ths Gfk-USM Ukraine consultancy.

Central Electoral Commission head Yaroslav Davydovich said voter turnout was 70 percent. Four hours after polls closed, officials had counted a mere 0.04 percent of votes.

Reuters SHB DB0922

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