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Ukraine Parliament Calls October 25 Presidential Poll

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko delivers his annual address to parliament on March 31.
KYIV (Reuters) -- Parliament in Ukraine called a presidential election for October 25, pitching the ex-Soviet state into new political turmoil as it grapples with a shrinking economy.

A parliamentary resolution set a date far earlier than had been anticipated. It won the backing of 401 deputies in the 450-seat assembly, a rare resounding vote in a chamber with a track record of unpredictable behavior.

Under the post-Soviet constitution, parliament is solely responsible for naming the date.

"What we are adopting here is not only a legal, but also a political decision," speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn told the chamber.

Senior officials, including the speaker of parliament, had earlier suggested a number of dates for the election.

But most predicted it would take place in January 2010 -- at the very end of President Viktor Yushchenko's five-year mandate, marked by continuous quarrels within the pro-Western politicians brought to power by the 2004 Orange Revolution.

Ukraine's economy has been battered by the crisis, with markets for its steel and chemical industries shrinking and its currency subject in recent months to sharp falls. Yushchenko said on March 31 that the economy had contracted 25 to 30 percent year-on-year in the first two months of 2009.

Debate in the chamber had focused on whether the election was subject to amended parts of the constitution or on the document in place when Yushchenko was elected in 2004.

Yushchenko won an election on the back of weeks of mass "orange" protests against poll fraud -- ushering in an era of pro-Western policies aimed at bringing Ukraine out of the shadow of giant neighbor Russia.

Viktor Yanukovych, current opposition leader and a former prime minister, was initially declared the winner, but the result was overturned in the courts after weeks of protests and Yushchenko won a re-run of the vote.

Yushchenko has twice appointed Yulia Tymoshenko, his ally during the "orange" protests, as his prime minister, but the two have quarrelled continuously and are now rivals.

No politician has formally announced an intention to contest the election. Yanukovych leads opinion surveys with Tymoshenko close behind. Yushchenko trails, his standing reduced to single figures.