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Ukraine's Tymoshenko Presses Tihipko On PM Offer

Serhiy Tihipko

Serhiy Tihipko

KYIV (Reuters) -- Ukraine's Yulia Tymoshenko pressed businessman Serhiy Tihipko today to accept her offer of the prime minister's job if she is elected president, but said she wanted his answer before a February 7 runoff vote.

Tihipko, a former central bank chief and government minister, came a strong third in the first round of the election on January 17, polling 13 percent of the vote.

Tymoshenko, who is prime minister, and opposition leader Viktor Yanukovych, her rival for the presidency, are both seeking Tihipko's support ahead of the February vote but he has already said he will not commit himself to either side.

"I want to officially offer Tihipko the post of prime minister in the event of my election as president," Tymoshenko told journalists. "I am hoping he will give a clear answer so that people can decide on voting day in the second round of the elections."

Tymoshenko trailed Yanukovych by 10 percentage points in the first round and wants the votes that Tihipko took from Yanukovich's support base in the industrial east of the country to help close the gap.

She is expected to pick up many floating votes from other eliminated candidates, particularly in the Ukrainian-speaking west and center.

Tihipko, 49, said in an interview with Reuters on January 25 that he was ready to serve either Yanukovych or Tymoshenko as prime minister as long as he had their backing for "unpopular measures" to revive the struggling economy.

Tymoshenko said her election programme was similar to that of Tihipko, especially in the area of the economy -- both speak of modernization and a stronger social safety net -- although Yanukovych too claims that his plan of action is identical.