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Europe

Bitter Rivalries Mark First Ukrainian Election Since "Revolution"

The presidential election in Ukraine on Sunday will be a clash of personalities all vying for the splintered vote in a country which is far from united in spite of the "orange revolution" a year and a half ago.

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Ukrainians have begun casting their vote

With a sea of ribbons and a generous dose of religion, the lead contenders of Ukraine's parliamentary poll are furiously working the stump ahead of the weekend vote, warning supporters not to let "them" rule the country.

Viktor Yanukovych, the defeated "orange revolution" presidential candidate whose party is expected to be the top vote getter in Sunday's election, turned Odessa's central Kulikovo Pole square white and blue this week, when he flew in for an hour to the southern port city where support for him runs strong.

"We must tell them firmly no!" he yelled at an adoring, 20,000-strong crowd bathed in a sea of the blue and white ribbons of his campaign.

Yanukovych's "them" are the "oranges" -- Ukraine's former opposition leaders who led mass protests when results from the presidential election in late 2004 initially gave him victory. The Supreme Court eventually threw the ballot out because of massive fraud and ordered a new round of voting, won by the incumbent President Viktor Yushchenko.

To this crowd, the "oranges" are nationalists who managed to stage a coup d'etat and plan to forcefully "Ukrainize" this traditionally Russian-speaking region. They aren't particularly liked in Odessa.

Meanwhile 600 kilometers (375 miles) northwest, in the towns around the western city of Lviv, Yulia Tymoshenko was battling two "thems" at once.

Former PM looking to eclipse "corrupt" rivals

Ukrainische Premierministerin Julia Timoschenko

Yulia Tymoshenko will shed the orange this weekend

Tymoshenko was one of the main leaders of the "orange revolution" but split with Yushchenko after he fired her as premier last September. Her "them" are Yanukovych's "forces of revanche" and Yushchenko's Our Ukraine bloc, whom she is battling for the "orange" electorate and whose leadership she has labeled corrupt.

Following her sacking, Tymoshenko ditched orange paraphernalia for a red heart on a white background and ribbons and flags with the insignia flutter from trees and bushes for several kilometers along the town's main thoroughfare.

Tymoshenko's supporters believe Yanukovych is part of a corrupt group of "bandits" that ruled Ukraine for a decade under the previous regime and tried to hang on to power through fraud, agents of Russia that's once again trying to subjugate and "Russify" Ukraine.

Tymoshenko vows she would never join forces with such people and warns that her former "orange" comrades are considering such a union, that they're not capable of "standing up to evil."

Ukraine is Europe-bound regardless of winner

Ukraine Russland Streit um Gaslieferungen Jurij Jechanurow

Yuriy Yekhanurov says Ukraine is on course for Europe

Whoever wins the election on Sunday, Ukraine’s westwards drift towards the rest of Europe will continue, according to the Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov.

However, in an interview with the Russian daily Izvestia he said that if the pro-Russian opposition wins, it would slow down the process by "three or four years", and that Kiev would continue to cooperate with Moscow.

"If (President Viktor) Yushchenko's side wins Ukraine will enter Europe quicker. If the other side does, the process will be slowed down by three or four years. But the direction will not change," Yekhanurov said.

Yekhanurov also said Ukraine could continue to cooperate closely with Russia who ever wins, especially in the energy sector. "We are interested in building an extra pipeline (between the Russia-Kazakhstan and Ukrainian-Slovakian border)," he said.

Yushchenko wants victory to pursue reforms

Viktor Juschtschenko und Viktor Janukowitsch schütteln sich die Hände

Yushchenko and Yanukovych: Bitter rivals again

"As regards the EU...Ukraine should first integrate with Europe's energy system, increase the sales of its electric energy to the west," he said.

Yushchenko needs his forces to gain a stable majority in parliament in order to continue reforms aimed at driving Ukraine toward Western clubs like the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Although he enjoyed the backing of 70 percent of his countrymen when he assumed power in January 2005, the slowing economy and infighting within his forces has eroded their support.

Economy a hot topic in Sunday's poll

The state of Ukraine's economy is a hotly debated issue, with one side saying it's in dire straits, the other that it's never been better.

Yanukovych paints a bleak economic picture, blaming his rival Yushchenko for the downturn which followed his election. "Economic policies of these authorities can only be called financial recklessness and economic irresponsibility," he said recently in Kiev. Yushchenko unsurprisingly, says the economy is in good shape.

However, his promise of turning Ukraine into a new investment paradise has not borne fruit, mostly because investors became wary of the government of his former "orange revolution" partner Tymoshenko and her vows to review past questionable privatizations, and because investors were waiting to see the nation's political landscape after this weekend's parliamentary poll.

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