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World News

Ukraine's Yanukovich eyes coalition, gov't this week

KIEV (Reuters) - Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich pushed on Wednesday for a new ruling coalition within the week to avoid snap elections and tackle a deep economic crisis.

Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovich looks on during a meeting with Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Moscow March 5, 2010. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

The ex-Soviet republic, battered by the economic downturn, needs a new government to adopt a delayed 2010 budget and restart talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on a suspended $16.4 billion bail-out package.

The Regions Party of the recently elected Yanukovich said it expected to announce a coalition in parliament and possibly a government line-up on Thursday, likely headed by Russian-born former finance minister Mykola Azarov.

Azarov, 62, an old ally of Yanukovich, would replace Yulia Tymoshenko, co-architect of the 2004 pro-Western “Orange Revolution” who was ousted last week in a vote of no-confidence after losing to Yanukovich in a February 7 presidential run-off.

He is seen as a safe pair of hands though no radical reformer. But he would give Yanukovich a reliable ruling partner after the infighting of Orange co-revolutionaries Tymoshenko and former President Viktor Yushchenko.

Yanukovich’s narrow victory tilted the country of 46 million people -- split between a Russian-leaning south and east and a Western-friendly west and center -- back toward Russia after years of fractious ‘Orange’ rule.

Azarov met on Wednesday with the loose Our Ukraine bloc of former president Viktor Yushchenko, needing the support of at least part of the alliance to secure a majority.

Our Ukraine deputy Roman Zvarych said Azarov gave them an “ultimatum” to decide on Wednesday whether to join as a whole, or be split by a new law giving deputies the right to enter a coalition on an individual basis.

“HISTORIC DECISION”

“If the decision is not favorable, I understood from Azarov’s words that a coalition will be formed and announced tomorrow anyway, as well as his candidacy for prime minister,” he was quoted as saying by Interfax-Ukraine.

Tymoshenko’s camp has condemned as a “constitutional coup d’etat” the amendment adopted on Tuesday on the rules governing how a coalition can be formed.

The Regions Party shrugged off the criticism, and Yanukovich as president signed the amendment, leaving it only to be published in the official gazette on Thursday before a coalition can be announced.

Regions Party lawmaker Mykhailo Chechetov predicted a “historic decision” on Thursday to form a coalition.

Yanukovich’s office said he had offered the post of deputy prime minister to former central bank chairman Sergey Tigipko, a reformer who has called for “unpopular” measures to deal with an economic crisis that saw GDP contract by 15 percent in 2009.

Tigipko, 50, came a strong third in the first round of the presidential election.

The president’s office said he had “agreed to work in the new government,” but Tigipko’s spokeswoman could not confirm whether or not he had accepted the offer.

Political analysts question whether Tigipko could pursue the reforms he wants within a government beholden in large part to Yanukovich’s wealthy industrial backers. It is also unclear how far Azarov would share his vision of what needs to be done.

Reliance on a handful of disaffected Our Ukraine deputies for a coalition majority could yet spell trouble and unsettle investors.

Additional reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Charles Dick

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