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Reports: Ukraine's PM, Ex-PM Close To Deal

Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko (left) and former premier Viktor Yanukovych (right)
KYIV (Reuters) -- Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and former premier Viktor Yanukovych, longstanding rivals, are on the verge of clinching a deal to form a "broad coalition" in parliament, Ukrainian media reported on May 31.

Talks between groups led by the two politicians have taken place intermittently for more than a year amid recurring bouts of the political upheaval that have buffeted Ukraine since the 2004 "Orange Revolution" brought pro-Western leaders to power.

The authoritative Internet news service Ukrainska Pravda quoted its sources as saying the leaders, the country's two most popular politicians in the run-up to a presidential election, had reached a "preliminary agreement" on May 30.

The deal called for forming a coalition, drafting a programme of common action until 2024, including running jointly in parliamentary elections, and altering the constitution to have the president elected by parliament.

Interfax Ukraina news agency said consultations were proceeding, with a deal expected within days. "Everything could be decided today or tomorrow," Interfax quoted a source as saying. "The issue is providing guarantees for the two sides."

There was no comment from either Tymoshenko's bloc or Yanukovych's Party of Regions. Nor was there any comment from President Viktor Yushchenko, whose standing lies in tatters more than four years after the mass "orange" rallies in his favour.

At Odds

Tymoshenko was allied to President Viktor Yushchenko in the 2004 mass "orange" rallies against election fraud and was named premier by him twice, but the two have been constantly at odds.

Yanukovych was the revolution's main loser.

Initially declared the winner of the 2004 presidential poll, he lost a re-run election to Yushchenko after the result was overturned. He returned as premier for a time in 2007 after the collapse of an "orange" government.

Russia backed Yanukovych in 2004 and has been irritated with Yushchenko, especially his drive for Ukraine to join NATO and his denunciations of Moscow's intervention in Georgia last year.

Moscow has developed better ties with Tymoshenko after a spat over a plan for the EU to upgrade Ukraine's gas transport system.

Tymoshenko and Yanukovych have a long history of hostility, at least in public. It is unclear whether they could overcome differences and produce the stability long sought by the European Union after more than four years of political sniping.

The current premier is a vocal defender of disadvantaged voters and draws much of her support from nationalist western Ukraine and the center of the country. Yanukovych's electoral heartland lies in the Russian-speaking industrial east.

The two sides have voted tactically together, mainly to counter Yushchenko's interests.

Yanukovych leads polls with over 20 percent, while Tymoshenko, hit by the effects of economic crisis, stands at about 15 percent. Yushchenko lags far behind in single figures.

Parliament set the next presidential election but October 25, but that ruling was struck down and a new date must be set.