* A leader of the Orange revolution after career in gas
* Her passion, ambition win both followers and enemies
* She says she is sole guarantor of democracy in Ukraine
KIEV, Feb 1 Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia
Tymoshenko, who fights opposition leader Viktor Yanukovich for
the presidency on Feb. 7, is a former gas magnate whose ringing
rhetoric electrified thousands in the 2004 "Orange Revolution".
The petite 49-year-old says she is the sole guarantor of
democracy in the former Soviet republic and has promised to
clean up corruption and move closer toward Europe while keeping
good ties with Russia, a trading partner and supplier of energy.
Tymoshenko shot on to the world stage with her impassioned
speeches in the 2004 mass protests against the sleaze of a
post-Soviet establishment in which Yanukovich was painted as a
pro-Moscow stooge and chief villain after he won a rigged poll.
In the present campaign, she has used her energy and sharp
tongue to ridicule her opponent's poor education and decry the
support he enjoys from the industrial tycoons in the east.
"There is a majority of people in the country who are ready
to vote for a democratic country without criminality and
oligarchy in power," she said after coming second to Yanukovich
in a first round of voting on Jan. 17.
"As a presidential candidate I will never allow the country
to return to the path that it was on in 2004," she said.
Many economists see her as a populist with an emphasis on
strengthening a state safety net, while her policies have been
described as ad hoc state interference, such as fixing price
controls for petrol and food to keep inflation down.
Her call for a review of thousands of privatised assets that
she said were sold to oligarchs on the cheap -- much as in
Russia during the 1990s -- spooked investors who wondered
whether any business would be secure from the state.
In the end, she succeeded in reselling just one asset -- a
steelmill to ArcelorMittal for $5 billion.
She has repeatedly lashed out against corruption in the gas
sector and has accused Russia of trying to gain control of
Ukraine's gas transit system to use as political leverage.
She herself, however, is reported to have made millions in
the 1990s as president of a company that was for a while the
main importer of Russian natural gas. That earned her the
nickname of the "Gas Princess".
She built better ties with Moscow as the Kremlin
increasingly took against President Viktor Yushchenko, whom she
helped to power in the "Orange Revolution" but of whom she is
now a bitter political foe.
Always stylishly dressed with a trademark peasant-style hair
braid, Tymoshenko's sharp tongue, combative style and sheer
drive bring her either devout followers or deadly enemies.
After the success of the "Orange Revolution", her
relationship with Yushchenko soon fell apart -- she was twice
his prime minister -- and he devoted as much time to trying to
undermine her campaign as he did Yanukovich's.
Billboards appearing this week show her looking sideways
with an almost regal air beneath a slogan that says: "Choose a
new path for Ukraine".
Born in 1960, in Russian-speaking Dnipropetrovsk in eastern
Ukraine, Tymoshenko studied at the local university, married
while still a teenage student and had a daughter in 1980.
Taking advantage of an entrepreneural climate in the Soviet
Union under leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Tymoshenko's first taste
of self-made money came from a video rental store she set up.
She soon crossed into the energy sector and went on to
become head of Unified Energy Systems, from which she earned the
sobriquet the "Gas Princess".
She entered parliament in 1996 and was made a deputy prime
minister in 2000 by the new premier -- Yushchenko.
Both, however, fell victim to political intriguing under
President Leonid Kuchma. Yushchenko was sacked as premier, while
Tymoshenko spent several weeks in jail on corruption charges.
She was cleared of those charges.
On leaving prison, she changed her image from that of a
plain, dark-haired woman. Her hair became lighter and she took
to wearing the braid and designer outfits increasingly often.
Her stylist later told media the folksy look was designed to
distance herself from an association with wealth and to
emphasise a national Ukrainian identity.
About 13 years ago, having set her sights on a political
career, she began to improve her Ukrainian and now speaks it
fluently on the campaign trail even when she is in
(Writing by Sabina Zawadzki; editing by Richard Balmforth)