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Ukraine Opposition Rejects Coalition With Tymoshenko’s Party

Party of Regions leader Viktor Yanukovych

Party of Regions leader Viktor Yanukovych

KYIV (Reuters) - Ukraine's main opposition party backed out of creating a coalition with Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko's bloc on June 7, leaving unresolved a tense political situation that has crippled the country for years.

Supporters of Tymoshenko, long at loggerheads with President Viktor Yushchenko, held days of talks with former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich's Party of Regions on forming a coalition that would have changed the constitution and elected Yanukovich president.

Altering the constitution to allow the president to be elected by parliament, instead of directly by the people, would have given Yanukovich the presidency and left Tymoshenko as prime minister.

But Yanukovich rejected the idea, saying he wanted to keep the system where the people elect the president directly.

"The will of the people needs to be respected. That is why, I have always been certain, leaders must entrust their fate to the people," Yanukovich said in a statement.

"I have always said and I will say it now, the president must be elected by a direct general election. Especially now, when a new president will have to deal with complex issues and possibly introduce unpopular measures," he said.

A presidential election by popular vote needs to take place by January next year. All three politicians have been touted to run, but Yushchenko's support has dwindled into single digits. Yanukovich tops the opinion polls, followed by Tymoshenko.

Ukraine has been gripped by political turmoil since the 2004 Orange Revolution that swept pro-Western Yushchenko into power. Most of the turmoil has centered on infighting between him and Tymoshenko, close allies during the revolution.

Their power struggle has distracted them from the deep economic crisis that has engulfed the former Soviet republic in the past six months and put in jeopardy a $16.4 billion International Monetary Fund bailout loan.

Tymoshenko's and Yushchenko's parties hold a shaky majority in parliament in a coalition formed 18 months ago. Yushchenko has overturned many government decisions while Tymoshenko's supporters have began cleansing the government of his allies.

Sniping between the two has already brought down one government with her as premier within seven months of taking office immediately after the revolution.

A government under Yanukovich followed but Tymoshenko regained power after a parliamentary election in 2007.

Yanukovich was the Moscow-backed candidate in a 2004 presidential election that was eventually won by Yushchenko in a re-run of a fraudulent vote.