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Orange Revolution Chiefs Face Hard Choices

March 29, 2006

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) _ Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and his one-time ally Yulia Tymoshenko have a chance at restoring their voters’ belief in the promise of the Orange Revolution and keeping this ex-Soviet Republic on a solid pro-Western course if they can revive their old partnership.

But that may prove difficult. Aside from bitter animosity rooted in their falling-out last September, which led to Tymoshenko being fired as prime minister, the two politicians have strong differences in their approach to governing that would make any new alliance an uneasy one.

Tymoshenko favors populist actions, and while prime minister, her interventionist economic policies spooked investors. Yushchenko, a banker by training, favors a more hands-off approach.

But the president’s other governing option following Sunday’s election seems even more awkward _ joining forces with the Orange Revolution’s resurgent former enemy, the pro-Russian opposition leader, Viktor Yanukovych. Many analysts say that if Yushchenko teams up with Yanukovych _ whose Party of the Regions won the most votes Sunday _ his supporters would abandon him in droves.

``It would basically be political suicide for him,″ said an independent political analyst, Sergei Taran.

With pressure building on the president to at least consider a reunion with Tymoshenko, Yushchenko met with her Tuesday at the presidential palace. If the two reconcile, their combined votes would put their total above Yanukovych’s and give them a chance to rule together.

``The president has only one choice: Make Tymoshenko his friend,″ said Oles Doniy, head of the Kiev-based Center for Political Values.

For Yushchenko, though, such a new deal is dangerous as well as unpalatable. Tymoshenko’s ambitions make her a threat to the president, who has seen his own sky-high popularity plummet amid public outrage over the slow pace of reforms.

On Tuesday, the wounds from the pair’s split six months ago still appeared fresh.

Facing each other across a large table, Yushchenko lectured and Tymoshenko sat stiffly on the edge of her seat. In brief footage shown on television of the behind-closed-doors meeting, Yushchenko told Tymoshenko the ``unique achievement″ of the Orange Revolution was Sunday’s vote, widely praised as this ex-Soviet republic’s freest ever. She listened silently, her eyes open wide.

The meeting was their first formal get-together since Yushchenko fired Tymoshenko in September. The pair briefly shared the stage in November to mark the one-year anniversary of the Orange Revolution, but Yushchenko used the occasion to publicly scold Tymoshenko for her super-sized ambitions and she stood nearby crying.

Tymoshenko emerged from Tuesday’s encounter looking more at ease, but still slightly concerned.

The blond-braided politician, whose steely nerve and beguiling charm have made her a favorite in Ukraine, put a positive spin on the talks, saying she and Yushchenko share the same vision for the country. But as she spoke, Yushchenko’s office rushed out a statement that emphasized the negotiations were preliminary and separate talks were also going on with Yanukovych.

Yushchenko has not tried to hide his distaste at the prospect of reuniting with Tymoshenko, whom he accused of waging a campaign to discredit him and his team while she served under him. His allegations against Tymoshenko have varied, but his anger has been a constant.

Before the election, Yushchenko was asked to name one good thing that Tymoshenko did during her eight months as prime minister. Yushchenko’s face hardened. Seconds ticked by. ``I’m composing my emotions so I can restrain them,″ he said finally, and didn’t name one thing.

Tymoshenko, meanwhile, has refrained from criticizing the president directly, but has turned her acerbic tongue on his closest aides and the man he chose to replace her as prime minister. Yushchenko’s entourage, meanwhile, accused Tymoshenko’s ally of tapping their phone lines while he served as head of the country’s secret service.

``The ill-will runs very deep,″ said Ivan Lozowy, president of the Kiev-based Institute of Statehood and Democracy.


Associated Press Writer Natasha Lisova contributed to this report.

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