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Ukraine's Yanukovych Pushes For Early Inauguration

Newly elected President Viktor Yanukovych reviews troops at a war memorial for those who died in the Soviet war in Afganistan in Kyiv.
KYIV (Reuters) -- Supporters of Ukrainian President-elect Viktor Yanukovych pushed for an early February 25 inauguration today to put pressure on rival Yulia Tymoshenko as she prepared a court challenge to his election.

Parliament appeared set on February 16 to approve the early date for Yanukovych's swearing-in before Tymoshenko's followers opened their challenge in a high court in Kyiv.

Backers of the 49-year-old prime minister say they have evidence to support their allegations that fraud by the Yanukovych camp robbed her of victory in the February 7 vote.

Although she is unlikely to succeed, the move will prolong uncertainty in the former Soviet state of 46 million, which has been hit by an economic crisis and is making do without a $16.4 billion IMF program, suspended last year.

The charismatic Tymoshenko, who lost to Yanukovych by the narrow margin of 3.48 percentage points, according to official results, says she will never recognize him as a legitimately elected president.

She has refused to step down as prime minister and concede defeat, despite the urging of Western governments which have formally congratulated the 59-year-old ex-mechanic and hailed his election as a victory for democracy.

The Yanukovych camp was clearly eager to see the Kyiv court reject the Tymoshenko appeal quickly so that he could be installed by the end of the month, two weeks earlier than had earlier been expected.

Referring to parliament's expected agreement to a February 25 inauguration, Oleksandr Yefremov, a representative of his Party of Regions, said, "This decision will give a signal to the court not to draw matters out."

The standoff spells more instability and political maneuvering with Tymoshenko continuing as prime minister after Yanukovych is sworn in until she is forced out by a vote of no confidence.

Even then, she will be able to stay on as acting prime minister while Yanukovych embarks on the long and complicated business of trying to forge a coalition in parliament to find her successor.

Tihipko, A Possible Prime Minister

In an interview with the BBC's Ukrainian service, Yanukovych said: "I understand very well that the coalition will be created around the candidature of the next prime minister, so I will encourage the process of unifying parliament and the negotiating process will show how much parliament is willing to unite around one or another candidate."

And he raised the possibility of the job going to businessman and former central-bank chief Serhiy Tihipko, 50, who secured a good negotiating position for himself after coming a strong third in the first round of voting.

"I do not rule out the candidature of Tihipko. Tihipko is on the list which, in my opinion, will be discussed next week in parliament," Yanukovych said.

Other candidates have been touted too, among them former Finance Minister Mykola Azarov, a loyal ally of Yanukovych, and Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a 35-year-old former finance minister and onetime speaker of parliament.

Oleksandr Turchynov, a close aide of Tymoshenko, said she herself would appear at Kyiv's High Administrative Court and was pressing for proceedings to be televised.

"Our side is preparing a large quantity of video material which confirm cheating at polling stations and in constituencies. A large number of witnesses are ready to give evidence about types of falsification," he told journalists.