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Ukraine Closer To Polls, Coalition In Stalemate

Yushchenko and Tymoshenko earlier this year

Yushchenko and Tymoshenko earlier this year

KYIV -- Ukraine has moved closer to early elections after President Viktor Yushchenko's party rejected a call by the prime minister to return to the ruling coalition.

The coalition of Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko's bloc and Yushchenko's Our Ukraine party had governed just nine months before collapsing on September 3 among bitter recriminations.

"Yesterday, I was informed of the decision by Our Ukraine to withdraw from the coalition," speaker Arseniy Yatsenyuk told parliament.

Under the constitution, the coalition now has 10 days to work out its differences and a further four days to publish a new agreement. If it does not, and if parliament does not create a new coalition within 30 days, Yushchenko can call an election.

Yushchenko wants his former Soviet republic of 47 million people to join NATO, while the goal of European Union membership is backed by all main political leaders.

U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney was due to arrive in Ukraine later in the day to show support for Kyiv after Russia's intervention in Georgia, a war which sparked fears that Moscow may take action against Ukraine.

Yushchenko has accused Tymoshenko of ganging up with rivals in parliament and running a "prime-ministerial dictatorship" after they mustered a large majority to pass laws reducing his powers.

He and his party have also accused her of failing to support Georgia in its war against Russia. Yushchenko, wary of Moscow flexing its muscles in the former Soviet Union, demonstrated his support by traveling to Tbilisi while war continued last month.

Yushchenko and Tymoshenko were close allies during the 2004 Orange Revolution, a year after Georgia's Rose Revolution.

Those two peaceful events helped the two former Soviet republics move away from Russian influence and towards Western integration.

But the infighting between him and Tymoshenko has prevented the government from pushing through reforms, privatizing state firms and adopting a unified approach to inflation, which soared to over 30 percent in May and is still high at 26 percent.

By accusing Tymoshenko of joining forces with the party of Viktor Yanukovych, the Moscow-backed presidential candidate whom Yushchenko defeated in 2004, and of not supporting Georgia, Yushchenko has tried to hijack some of her core supporters.

Persistent rumors that either her party or his would link up with Yanukovych's Party of Regions in a "grand coalition" uniting Ukraine's nationalist west and the Russian-speaking east have circulated for several years.

Despite voting together in parliament to reduce Yushchenko's powers, Tymoshenko later accused Yushchenko of having strong links with Yanukovych by agreeing to his appointment as prime minister in 2006-2007 and promoting some of his party members.

She said Yushchenko was merely seeking popular support with his accusations ahead of a presidential election that is due in
16 months. All three politicians are expected to run in that election.

Parliament voted late September 2 laws that enable the government to ignore the president's decrees if they interrupt the work of the cabinet. Yushchenko had issued several decrees that halted the government's privatization process.

New laws have to be signed by the president. However, Tymoshenko's and Yanukovych's parties control 331 votes out of 450, which means they could eventually bring the changes into force without Yushchenko's consent.