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Wafer-thin "Orange" coalition formed in Ukraine

KIEV (Reuters) - Parties associated with the 2004 pro-Western “Orange Revolution” formed a wafer-thin majority coalition in Ukraine’s parliament on Thursday, the first step towards forming a government.

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The coalition, with only a single vote to spare, is expected to be headed by former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, a leader of the protests that swept President Viktor Yushchenko to power.

Roman Zvarych, an ally of President Viktor Yushchenko who was chairing the session, said 227 signatures appeared on the document -- one less than expected -- after weeks of talks. A total of 226 votes is needed to win most motions in the chamber.

Zvarych immediately closed the session until Tuesday. The assembly must still elect a speaker and proceed with formation of a government.

“We have no euphoric illusions about how difficult it will be for this democratic coalition to work. We know some political forces will try to impede us,” Tymoshenko, abandoning her trademark peasant braid, told reporters after the session.

“But we believe that from today we will be working as a united team. There will be no more double standards...we can form an effective government and provide hope for the country’s deep, systematic transformation.”

Analysts immediately raised questions about the viability of the narrowest of majorities created uneasily by two parties after three years of turmoil in the ex-Soviet state.

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“This was quite a difficult birth which, by all appearances, may not yet be over,” said Viktor Nebozhenko of the Barometer think tank. “This coalition has so far done nothing active so we can say nothing about whether it can be viable or effective.”

The coalition deal followed weeks of negotiations after two “orange” groups - Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine party and Tymoshenko’s bloc - set aside differences during the campaign to win the slender majority.

Both groups had given initial approval to a post-election coalition, but key presidential allies criticised parts of the accord and had withheld approval. They were persuaded to sign on Wednesday after talks with Yushchenko.

Parliament has 30 days from Thursday’s sitting to put together a government.

Final agreement has yet to be reached on a candidate for the powerful position of speaker. Our Ukraine has put forward Arseniy Yatsenyuk, currently foreign minister.

Yushchenko came to power after the Orange Revolution’s mass protests against electoral fraud in 2004, but the movement could not maintain its unity and the president sacked Tymoshenko as prime minister months later.

The two leaders were reconciled during the campaign.

Additional reporting by Pavel Polityuk; writing by Ron Popeski

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