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Tymoshenko Opens Populist Drive For Ukrainian President

Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko (right) and former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych are the front-runners in the January poll.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko (right) and former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych are the front-runners in the January poll.

(RFE/RL) -- Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko officially launched her bid for the presidency at a massive populist rally in Kyiv's Independence Square.

Tens of thousands of supporters chanted her name as her party, the Bloc Yulia Tymoshenko (BYuT), unanimously nominated her as its candidate for the January 17 presidential election.

In a fiery 45-minute speech, Tymoshenko accused President Viktor Yushchenko of betraying the values of the pro-Western Orange Revolution that brought them both to power in 2005.

"It's not our fault, and it's not our country's fault, that the leader we elected didn't stand up and protect Ukraine as we expected him to but instead became a mere item in the personal collections of our Ukrainian oligarchs," she said.

The 48-year-old Tymoshenko is considered one of the front-runners for the January election, alongside former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.

Wearing a traditional Ukrainian dress and sporting her trademark peasant hair braid, she pledged to "build Europe in Ukraine," fight rampant corruption, and improve the judicial system.

She also called for warmer relations with Ukraine's old Soviet master, Russia.

"At the same time, we don't have the right to have any confrontation with our traditional and friendly neighbors," she said. "I'm sure that our relations with the Russian Federation can be equal and respectable, open and honest, without ambiguities."

Relations with Russia have soured during Yushchenko's five years in power, and the two countries have been involved in bitter disputes over the pricing and supply of Russian natural gas bound for Europe.

Yushchenko Expected To Fall

Yushchenko's campaign for NATO membership has angered Moscow as well as people in Ukraine's Russian-speaking eastern regions.

His ratings are low and he is expected to fall in the first round of the January election.

Tymoshenko's nomination rally -- which ended with fireworks and a concert -- contrasted sharply with that of Yanukovych, who launched his presidential bid at a sober gathering of supporters on October 23.

Speaking at the closed-door rally, he pledged to end the political feuding that has marred Ukrainian politics.

"Only the unity of power and the people will be the guarantee that Ukraine will be freed from the evil created by the war between the Orange leaders."

Yushchenko and Tymoshenko quickly fell out after being propelled to power during the Orange Revolution, triggered by the victory of Moscow-backed Yanukovych in a rigged poll that was quashed by the Supreme Court.

In-fighting between the two leaders and parliament has paralyzed decision making and hampered reform in impoverished Ukraine.

This year's fight for the presidency in Ukraine is already shaping up to be dirty.

Yanukovych's supporters have called for a probe into reports that members of Tymoshenko's party were involved in a sex scandal at a Black Sea children's camp.

Tymoshenko supporters, in turn, have accused Yanukovych of being involved in the rape of a woman when he was a member of a youth gang -- an accusation his camp has dismissed as a lie.

With wire service reports