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Ukraine's Orange Coalition Collapses

Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko leaves after a news conference in Kyiv today
Weeks after losing a presidential election, Ukraine's Yulia Tymoshenko now faces losing her job as prime minister.

A key ally has announced Tymoshenko's ruling coalition has collapsed ahead of a parliamentary vote of no confidence in her government on March 3.

After losing last month's presidential election, the fiery prime minister vowed to oppose her rival Yanukovych, from her old post.

But today, a key member of Tymoshenko's ruling Orange coalition, parliament speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn, said the coalition was unable to collect enough signatures to show it still has a majority in the 450-seat legislature.

The move deals a final blow to the pro-Western leaders of the Orange Revolution, who came to power after Yanukovych's victory in a rigged presidential election five years ago brought hundreds of thousands onto the streets in protest.

Yanukovych hopes a loss in the March 3 no-confidence vote will pave the way for him to consolidate power by forming his own governing coalition.

But he faces a bruising battle ahead. Tymoshenko accuses Yanukovych of stealing the election through fraud, and bribing members of parliament to abandon her coalition. Today she vowed to lead the country's "democratic forces" in opposing his administration.

If Tymoshenko loses the vote tomorrow, which appears likely, she'll remain acting prime minister until Yanukovych puts together his own coalition. That may prove difficult within the 30 days allowed under the constitution. If he fails, Yanukovych may dissolve parliament and call for snap elections.

Last month, Yanukovych told Ukrainian television whatever happens, there was no way Tymoshenko would remain in office.

"I believe she'll resign voluntarily, although it doesn't really matter how she does it -- whether she resigns on her own or is dismissed by parliament," Yanukovych said.

Choices For New PM

Yanukovych said he would install one of three candidates as prime minister. Many believe he'll name former central banker Serhiy Tihipko or former Foreign Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. Both ran in the first round of the presidential election in January and are seen as centrist figures who would boost Yanukovych's appeal among the Orange electorate.

Amid the political standoff, Yanukovych made his first foreign trip as president to Brussels on March 1, where he said improving relations with the European Union will remain a priority for Ukraine.

"Our priorities will include integration into the European Union, improving friendly and constructive relations with Russia, and developing friendly ties with neighboring partners, as well as strategic partners such as the United States, getting our relations with the International Monetary Fund and other international financial organizations back on track," Yanukovych said.

Yanukovych is keen to restart talks with the International Monetary Fund, which last year froze a $16.4 billion bailout aimed at helping Ukraine tackle a devastating economic crisis.

But Yanukovych is also widely expected to steer Ukraine back toward Russia, which campaigned for him in 2004 and ridiculed the Orange Revolution. Yanukovych is set to travel to Moscow on March 5.

The new president has indicated he would put an end to Ukraine's drive to join NATO, which infuriated the Kremlin, and renegotiate a gas supply deal with Moscow, which some believe would enable him to reestablish closer ties with Russia's Gazprom.

But while the collapse of Tymoshenko's government has put Yanukovych a big step closer to establishing his rule, Ukraine's ongoing political crisis looks set only to escalate as politicians jockey for position under its first post-Orange administration.