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Ukraine leaders make election appeals

Published: 9:48PM Monday September 17, 2007 Source: Reuters

Ukraine's president and prime minister, rivals from the Orange Revolution, urged voters at the weekend to fill parliament with their allies and end a standoff plunging the ex-Soviet state into turmoil.

Both were in fiefdoms which traditionally bisect Ukraine - Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich in the Russian-speaking east and President Viktor Yushchenko in the nationalist west.

Yushchenko beat Yanukovich in a 2004 presidential election, but infighting toppled a government led by "orange" heroine, Yulia Tymoshenko.

Yanukovich became prime minister and has overseen strong growth, but a struggle for power led Yushchenko to dissolve parliament and call a September 30 election. The premier's Regions Party and the "orange" camp are neck-and-neck in polls.

Stopping in scruffy industrial towns where his party's blue banners fluttered from trees and signposts, Yanukovich accused Tymoshenko and her allies of being unfit to run the economy.

"The Ukrainian people must give them their reply. What should their business be? Skating and putting on fashion shows?" he told supporters, mocking the impeccably-dressed Tymoshenko.

"Or is it running the economy? No one will entrust them with managing the economy."

Looking relaxed as crowds shouted his name and carried his portrait aloft, he urged voters never to "repeat the mistake of 2004 when they supported the orange team".

In the western city of Lviv, hotbed of Ukrainian national sentiment, Yushchenko said rows among liberals had been resolved and vowed to put an "orange" government back in office.

"There is nothing to divide us. We have learned the lessons of the past. I will allow no further errors on my team," the pro-Western Yushchenko said. 

Competing traditions

The speeches at opposite ends of the country of 47 million will do nothing to allay doubts that the election can end months of deadlock and bridge the gap between two competing traditions.

Yushchenko's 2004 victory over Yanukovich, who was backed at the time by Moscow, prompted a series of plans to take Ukraine out of Russia's shadow and move it closer to the West, including eventual membership of NATO and the European Union.

But even the president's modest pledge to gain entry to the World Trade Organisation within a year has yet to be achieved.

The campaign this time has focused on living standards, with Ukrainians earning on average $260 or less.

Yushchenko, his powers curbed since 2004, dissolved parliament after accusing the prime minister of illegally trying to expand his majority in the chamber to alter the constitution.

Yanukovich's party, allied with Communists, leads polls with 30% support. But the combined tally of "orange" groups is right behind, though Tymoshenko's bloc outpaces Our Ukraine.

Ukraine's last parliamentary election, just over a year ago, spawned 4 1/2 months of talks which saw one "orange" group change sides and allowed Yanukovich to make his comeback.