Update: Yanukovych to be sworn in, rival fights on

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Feb. 16, 2010, 11:40 p.m. |

Ukraine's parliament on Tuesday set Feb. 25 for the inauguration of Viktor Yanukovich as president while his rival, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, launched a challenge to his election in court.

Ukraine's parliament on Tuesday set Feb. 25 for the inauguration of Viktor Yanukovich as president while his rival, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, launched a challenge to his election in court. Parliament seethed with intrigue as the two camps sought to outmanoeuvre each other -- she seeking to hold on to her power base as prime minister while his party tried to forge a new alliance to get her out.

With Tymoshenko maintaining Yanukovich is not legitimately elected and refusing to quit as prime minister, tension ran high and prospects for a quick return to stability were dim.

Though few commentators expect Tymoshenko's legal challenge to succeed, she was not ready on Tuesday to back down.

"I am convinced there was systemic, fundamental, large-scale fraud," the 49-year-old Tymoshenko defiantly told reporters after lodging her appeal at Kiev's High Administrative Court.

The court will look at evidence presented by her which alleges cheating by the Yanukovich camp at several hundred polling stations around the ex-Soviet republic of 46 million.

She says the fraud robbed her of victory in the Feb. 7 runoff. Yanukovich has denied there was any vote-rigging.

Uncertainty after a bitter campaign which resulted in a narrow win of 3.5 percentage points for Yanukovich threatens an early economic recovery.

Preliminary official figures on Tuesday showed the economy shrank 15 percent in 2009 -- the worst contraction in 15 years -- after growing 2.1 percent the previous year.

The stand-off, which outgoing President Viktor Yushchenko scornfully called "a fight of two elephants", is delaying passage of the 2010 budget. It also threatens resumption of IMF lending under a $16.4 billion bail-out programme which was suspended last year.

Markets have been broadly stable since the election, with investors resigned to waiting for a resolution to the turmoil. The hryvnia currency traded steady on Tuesday.


Major powers including the United States, Russia and the European Union have congratulated Yanukovich, a 59-year-old ex-mechanic from the Donbass mining region, on his victory.

Western governments have privately urged the charismatic Tymoshenko to accept defeat in the best interests of Ukraine.

Apart from her court appearance, she met members of factions allied with her BYuT bloc and urged them to hold together to ensure a balanced power structure which was not "monopolised" by Yanukovich's Regions Party backers.

Parliamentary sources said Yanukovich's team were also active in horse-trading as they tried to forge a coalition that could produce an acceptable successor to Tymoshenko.

If the Yanukovich team succeeds, a vote of no confidence in Tymoshenko's government is likely to follow.

Most analysts see Tymoshenko ending up as opposition leader but say it is hard to predict how long the conflict might last.


One analyst saw risks for Tymoshenko if she continued her defiance. "The clear danger in such a strategy is that she is tarnished as not being willing to accept the democratic choice of the people of Ukraine," Tim Ash of Royal Bank of Scotland wrote in a research note.

"She will have to weigh the pro and cons ... carefully, as the Tymoshenko brand, which is iconic, could be terminally damaged in the process," wrote Ash.

Yanukovich is expected to tilt Ukraine back towards Russia, its former imperial master, after five years of estrangement under the pro-Western Yushchenko.

Yanukovich, in an interview on Russian television at the weekend, said Kiev may allow Moscow to station its Black Sea Fleet in the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol beyond a scheduled withdrawal in 2017.

He also said he would revive the idea of a gas consortium that would allow Moscow to co-manage Ukrainian pipelines.

At a parting news conference, Yushchenko said appointing Tymoshenko -- his ally in the 2004 Orange Revolution that brought him to power -- as prime minister in 2007 had been his "greatest mistake".

Both Tymoshenko and Yanukovich, he said, were part of a Kremlin plot aimed at Ukrainian independence. "It (the election) is a defeat for Ukraine's European course," he said. (Additional reporting by Yuri Kulikov, Natalya Zinets, Pavel Polityuk and Mykhailo Yelchev in Kiev)
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