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Yanukovych Offers Key Ukraine Post To Reformer

Serhiy Tihipko is a former central bank governor.
KYIV (Reuters) -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has offered the post of deputy prime minister in charge of economic affairs to reformist former central bank chairman Serhiy Tihipko, Yanukovych's office said.

It said in a statement that Tihipko, 50, had "agreed to work in the new government", but did not make clear whether he had accepted the post of deputy prime minister.

A spokeswoman for Tihipko could not confirm whether he had agreed to take the post.

Yanukovych's offer will fuel speculation that the job of prime minister will go to the president's Russian-born close ally, former Finance Minister Mykola Azarov, 62.

The nomination of a new prime minister is likely soon after the formation of a new ruling coalition in parliament, expected in the next two days.

Yanukovych's Regions Party is trying to stitch together a new alliance and a government to replace that of ousted Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who lost a presidential runoff election in February to Yanukovych.

On March 9, the Regions Party and its allies pushed through parliament a rule change easing the creation of a ruling coalition by giving deputies the right to join as individuals, not necessarily as part of a parliamentary faction.

Yanukovych's lawmakers say they could announce a coalition on March 11 or 12 after the rule change is signed by the president and published in the official gazette.

Lawmakers said Azarov was meeting leaders of the Our Ukraine faction of former President Viktor Yushchenko today, a crucial bloc if the Regions Party is to clinch a majority in parliament.

Tihipko, who came a strong third in the first round of the presidential election in January, previously ruled out accepting any job other than that of prime minister, and demanded "unpopular" reforms to tackle a serious economic crisis.

Political analysts have questioned whether he could push such reforms through a government beholden in large part to Yanukovych's wealthy industrial backers.