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Ukraine President, PM Spar Again Before Key Meeting

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko: "We must not blindly believe alluring promises."
KYIV (Reuters) -- Ukraine's president and prime minister, at odds over the merits of a deal to restore Russian gas flows to Europe, have traded new barbs ahead of a meeting of top officials about the agreement.

Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who praises the accord and the 2009 gas price as a "victory" for Ukraine, said the National Security and Defense Council had no right to derail the deal she struck at weekend talks in the Kremlin.

President Viktor Yushchenko says the deal's provisions for Ukraine to pay European prices less 20 percent damaged the national interest. He made no direct reference to the premier but warned in a speech against "alluring promises."

Yushchenko and Tymoshenko were allies in the 2004 Orange Revolution that swept Ukraine's pro-Western leaders to power.

They have since been at odds on nearly all policy issues, particularly since Tymoshenko was made prime minister for a second time in late 2007.

'Alluring Promises'

In an address on January 22 marking the 1919 proclamation of a short-lived Ukrainian state that was crushed by the Bolsheviks, Yushchenko said Ukrainians would not be duped by groundless pledges.

"We must not blindly believe alluring promises. We must not blindly believe politicians who, within an instant, betray the national interest," he told dignitaries.

Tymoshenko said neither the president nor the National Security and Defense Council -- to be convened on January 23 -- could overturn the deal.

"Everything will be as was signed by the government," she told Fifth Channel television late on January 22.

Tymoshenko also said Yushchenko was doing nothing to halt declines in the hryvnia currency and renewed calls for him to sack the central bank chief. The hryvnia fell to 50 percent of its former value late last year, but has since regained ground.

"Everyone understands that the central bank is ruining Ukraine but the president chooses not to react at all," she said. "Parliament must examine the president's responsibility."

A year before a presidential election, Tymoshenko rides high in polls just behind Viktor Yanukovych, the Kremlin-backed candidate initially declared the winner in a rigged 2004 presidential poll that sparked the Orange Revolution protests.

Yushchenko trails far behind in surveys.