Ukraine PM slams "populist" foes before tough poll

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DONETSK, Ukraine, Sep 28 (Reuters) Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich warned voters today that victory would not come easy in a weekend election and urged them to help stop a comeback by ''populists and performers'' behind Ukraine's ''Orange Revolution''.

But Yanukovich, addressing a rally as campaigning drew to a close for Sunday's parliamentary poll, did not rule out a deal to form a post-election coalition with President Viktor Yushchenko, swept to office in 2004 by ''orange'' protests.

''Orange'' supporters, newly-united in rejecting any notion of a ''grand coalition'' with Yanukovich, staged a small rally in Kiev.

More mass gatherings were scheduled for the evening.

''We must not think victory will come to us easily on a plate. It won't,'' Yanukovich told 20,000 supporters in a central square in Donetsk, hub of his support in industrial Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine.

''Victory will come when the entire country rises up and says 'no' to the populists, performers and adventurists who mock our native land and deny our children a future.'' But Yanukovich would not exclude the notion -- as speculated by many -- of striking a deal on governing along with Yushchenko.

''I think much will depend on how we do in the election. We have never said 'no','' he told reporters after the rally.

Sunday's early election is certain to produce a close finish and spawn long, difficult negotiations to form a stable majority in the 450-seat assembly able to form a government.

AN END TO DEADLOCK? The contest seeks to end months of political deadlock pitting Yushchenko against Yanukovich, the rival he defeated in a 2004 presidential election.

Yushchenko appeared to dismiss any deal with his rival yesterday, embracing the revolution's heroine, Yulia Tymoshenko, sacked as prime minister of his first government''.

That gesture, amid great fanfare, made it plain she could be restored to office if voters returned an ''orange'' majority.

Yanukovich's Regions Party lead in surveys with 30 per cent support. His communist allies are also likely to win seats.

Right behind is the combined tally of ''orange'' groups -- Tymoshenko's bloc, followed by the pro-presidential Our Ukraine party. Both draw support in the nationalist west and the centre.

No other group among 20 on the ballot is likely to clear 3 percent of the popular vote to enter parliament.

Tymoshenko pledged on Friday to be more cautious if returned to office, taking account of her eight months in office in 2005 marked by infighting among ministers and Western suspicions of her calls for a mass review of privatisations.

''I believe my main mistake was working too effectively. As the sole soldier on the battlefield, I could only begin to knock down a system based on clan interests,'' she told reporters.

''Now, we will come as a team and proceed more slowly with reforms, while understanding the interests we risk offending.'' Yushchenko took office in early 2005 after mass pro-Western ''orange'' protests helped overturn a rigged presidential poll initially won by Yanukovich, backed at the time by Russia.

He named Tymoshenko prime minister and embarked on ambitious plans to move Ukraine closer to the West, but the two fell out. Her dismissal sowed deep disillusion in the ''orange'' camp.

Yanukovich, who now describes himself as pro-European, rebounded to become prime minister after his party came first in last year's election. Yushchenko dissolved parliament and called the election after accusing Yanukovich of an illegal power grab.

Reuters AE DB2137

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