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Ukraine Rivals Skirmish In Court And Parliament

Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and ex-President Leonid Kravchuk at a hearing of the Higher Administrative Court in Kyiv.
KYIV (Reuters) -- Ukrainian President-elect Viktor Yanukovych moved to oust rival Yulia Tymoshenko as prime minister today, while she went to court to challenge his February 7 election as fraudulent.

Tymoshenko pressed her case before Ukraine's Higher Administrative Court for another runoff vote to be organized that would block Yanukovych's inauguration on February 25.

After a day's hearing, at which she urged the court to "study carefully" nine volumes of evidence that she said showed she had been robbed of victory, Yanukovych's camp in parliament took steps to force her out of office with a no-confidence vote.

A draft resolution "on the responsibility of the government" was published on the parliament's website by a deputy of Yanukovych's Party of Regions faction. The deputy, Oleksandr Yefremov, told Interfax, "This is a resolution of no-confidence in the government."

It will require a simple majority -- 226 votes in the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada -- to bring down the government. The vote can be expected after March 2 and after Yanukovych is sworn in.

Yanukovych, 59, who defeated the charismatic Tymoshenko by just 3.5 percentage points in the runoff, has already called on her to quit voluntarily, but she has refused.

If a vote of no confidence is successful, she will have to step down with her government but she can stay on as acting prime minister for some time.

She will have to leave office only once Yanukovych's camp has forged a new parliamentary coalition -- a long and complicated process of horse-trading.

Wave Of Protests

"A new president will have legitimacy only when all the evidence which has put it in doubt has been studied," Tymoshenko told the court.

Tymoshenko is pressing for a new presidential vote, as took place in the 2004 Orange Revolution that ended with President Viktor Yushchenko being elected.

Yanukovych, denied the top job by the 2004 wave of protests against electoral fraud, has denied any wrongdoing in the runoff.

Tymoshenko is also trying to have declared illegal the official declaration that Yanukovych was elected.

Few commentators expect her to win and most believe the court will throw out the appeal in time for Yanukovych's inauguration to go ahead.

Tymoshenko pledged to abide by the court's decision, so long as she deemed it fair.

"If everything is set up and studied objectively, I will accept the decision which is the will of people. But I cannot accept double standards," she said.

Tymoshenko was given a hostile reception from hundreds of Yanukovych supporters who turned out in force dressed in the campaign blue of his party. They chanted "Shame! Shame" as she was escorted by bodyguards into and out of the court building.

With her hair plaited in her trademark peasant braid, she sat next to Leonid Kravchuk, a former president, in the courtroom. Others supporting her in court included former Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk.

"I am sure that an honest review of all the circumstances is required not only by me as a presidential candidate. I am sure that it is also required by the candidate who considers himself president," she told the court.

Analysts say Tymoshenko's refusal to concede to Yanukovych, whose victory has been recognized by Russia and the West, may be aimed at weakening him as much as possible before he takes office and may not be based on serious hopes of a court victory.

Many expected the court to deliver its ruling in two or three days.

Although the court case is not expected to delay the inauguration, the uncertainty was bad news for stability and hopes of a quick economic recovery for the ex-Soviet republic of 46 million people.

Ukraine has been buoyed by a $16.4 billion bailout program from the International Monetary Fund.

This was suspended late last year over broken spending promises and the fund is not likely to resume the program until a stable power structure has emerged in the country.