Yanukovych to take office as Ukraine’s president, despite opponent’s challenge, supporters say

By Yuras Karmanau, AP
Monday, February 15, 2010

Yanukovych’s inauguration in Ukraine to be Feb. 25

KIEV, Ukraine — Viktor Yanukovych will be inaugurated Feb. 25 as the new president of Ukraine despite Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s challenges to the election, a party official said Monday.

Anna German, the vice chairwoman of Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, also told The Associated Press that Yanukovych is considering offering the prime minister’s office to banking magnate Sergei Tigipko — one of his rivals in the presidential ballot — or one of several other candidates.

“No one has been given an offer, but he is one on a list of candidates for the post,” German said.

Tigipko came in third place during the first round of the presidential ballot Jan. 17, and has said he would accept the prime minister’s job if it were offered.

Tymoshenko, who apparently lost the presidential runoff Feb. 7, has refused to concede. She is now pressing to prove her claims of election fraud in court before Yanukovych is inaugurated, her campaign chief Alexander Turchinov said Monday.

“Tomorrow the court battle begins,” Turchinov said in televised remarks. “The court must reach a conclusion before the inauguration. Otherwise the process has no point.”

Tymoshenko’s hopes of proving the election was rigged received another blow Monday from European election monitors, who have deemed the election fair.

Joao Soares, the head of the observation mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, denied Tymoshenko’s claims that the organization’s observers were ready to support her court challenge with video evidence of election fraud.

“The OSCE does not have any video evidence of election fraud as she reportedly claimed in a speech last Saturday,” Soares said in a statement Monday.

German urged Tymoshenko to resign as prime minister and to stop “flooding” the courts with complaints. “This is just a shortsighted attempt to delay the ascension to power of our new president,” German said.

Yanukovych’s party is in talks with other parties to create a new coalition in parliament that could oust Tymoshenko from her post.

If she is forced out, it would be a further repudiation of the pro-Western Orange Revolution of 2004.

The Orange movement that year protested the presidential vote and the courts overturned Yanukovych’s election victory due to widespread fraud. A revote brought Tymoshenko and President Viktor Yushchenko to power on the back of massive street demonstrations.

But the two Orange leaders quickly fell out, contributing to a paralyzed political system. Now some of Yushchenko’s supporters in parliament are expected to join a coalition with Yanukovych’s party.

German said the Party of Regions had decided to delay the inauguration so that Yushchenko, once their political adversary, could celebrate his 56th birthday Feb. 23 while still in office.

In a statement, Yushchenko called on the court Monday to review Tymoshenko’s claims “legally and swiftly” in order to allow the legitimate transfer of power.

Also Monday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev invited Yanukovych to visit Moscow in the near future. The pro-Russian Yanukovych is much more palatable to the Kremlin than Yushchenko, who had pushed for Ukraine to become more integrated with Western Europe.

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