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Ukraine's Orange coalition falls apart after Socialists break ranks

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July 7, 2006, 4:38 p.m. |
Party of Regions says doors for forming coalition are open for everyone, while Socialists say they now support broad coalition, including Regions and Our Ukraine iament speaker, and the pro-Russian opposition said it hoped to form a government.

Ukraine has been in political crisis without a new government for more than three months since parliamentary elections in which the pro-Russian Party of Regions won the most seats but fell short of a majority.

After weeks of tense bargaining, the three parties involved in the 2004 Orange Revolution agreed last month to form a coalition under a deal that would give President Viktor Yushchenko's party the speaker's post and hand back to his estranged ally Yulia Tymoshenko her prime minister's job.

But lawmakers on Thursday unexpectedly elected Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz as speaker, provoking accusations of betrayal from Yushchenko's and Tymoshenko's parties. They largely boycotted the vote, which was carried with support from the Communists and the Party of Regions.

The Party of Regions immediately reached out to the Socialists, saying it was launching talks on the creation of a coalition.

"The doors are open for everyone," the Party of Regions' leader Viktor Yanukovych said Friday in parliament.

The Socialists said they were ready to join a broad coalition that also included Yushchenko's Our Ukraine party.

"Now Ukraine needs a broad coalition including the Party of Regions and Our Ukraine," said Socialist Party member Stanislav Nikolayenko, acting science and education minister.

Later, a top lawmaker from the Party of Regions, Taras Chornovil, said that his party proposed Yanukovych for the prime minister's job and would start coalition talks with the Socialists and Communists on Friday.

The president's party declared the Orange coalition over, blaming the Socialists for joining up with the Communists and Party of Regions.

"Yesterday the coalition ceased to exist. A new majority appeared," said Roman Bezsmertny, one of the leaders of Our Ukraine.

Yanukovych was Yushchenko's Kremlin-backed opponent in the 2004 presidential election that sparked the mass protests dubbed the Orange Revolution. Yanukovych won the election, but it was declared invalid and Yushchenko was elected in a court-ordered rerun.

The majority coalition formed in June reunited the central parties in the Orange Revolution, who had fallen out with each other after Yushchenko took office amid deep personal rivalry between the president and Tymoshenko.

Yushchenko, whose party finished a humiliating third in the March elections, agreed that Tymoshenko would be nominated to return to the premiership - from which he had fired her last September. But in return his party insisted on getting the powerful speaker's job.

The latest political crisis erupted Thursday only hours after the Party of Regions ended a 10-day parliament blockade that paralyzed the legislature's work and prevented the formation of the new government.

The party had complained that the coalition was trying to shut it out of key committee positions and objected to a coalition proposal to elect the premier and speaker in a single vote.

The political standoff has highlighted divisions in the country between the mainly Russian-speaking east and south and the Ukrainian-speaking west, and the country's strategic dilemma between close ties with Russia and integration with the West.

Tymoshenko, a charismatic politician who is hugely popular in western Ukraine, slammed her pro-Russian opponents for their attempt to get into government.

"Criminals are coming back," she said.
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