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Ukrainian leader’s former foe named premier

Ukraine's parliament named Viktor Yanukovych prime minister Friday at the urging of President Viktor Yushchenko, who defeated Yanukovych in the fraud-tainted 2004 election.
Viktor Yushchenko, Viktor Yanukovych
Ukraine's parliament on Friday approved Viktor Yanukovych, left, to become prime minister, a stunning turnaround for this ex-Soviet republic less than two years after pro-Western reformers led massive street protests against Yanukovych's fraud-riddled grab at the presidency. Efrem Lukatsky / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Parliament named Viktor Yanukovych prime minister Friday in a stunning comeback for the man whose fraud-tainted 2004 presidential victory was turned back by the Orange Revolution.

President Viktor Yushchenko, who won a court-ordered revote following massive protests led by pro-Western reformers, must now share power with his former rival. Many of his supporters have accused him of betraying the revolution by not rejecting Yanukovych’s nomination.

“Only in this hall can we find a general national compromise,” Yushchenko told lawmakers. “There is no other hall.”

The president acceded to his rival’s nomination after securing a pact with him to continue Ukraine’s pro-Western course, uphold democratic freedoms and ensure the opposition has equal rights during elections.

Uniting the divide
Yanukovych left politics in disgrace after Ukraine’s Supreme Court threw out his presidential win in 2004. Yushchenko, his face deeply pockmarked and bloated from a still-unsolved toxin-poisoning, took power after rallying opposition to the candidate favored by Moscow.

Yanukovych’s support base lies in the former Soviet republic’s Russian-speaking east and south, and many of the president’s allies based in the more nationalistic west and south called on him to dissolve parliament and order new elections to keep out Yanukovych.

The prime minister’s return “is revenge, with an element of humiliation for us,” Our Ukraine lawmaker Vyacheslav Kyrylenko said. “We’ll see how serious this revenge is.”

Before the vote, Yanukovych called for unity.

“In this hall, we will ... unite the two teams, which have spent these last two years standing on opposite sides of the Dniper,” Yanukovych said, referring to the river that bisects Ukraine. “This step will bring a huge positive: unity.”

Political compromises
Lawmakers approved Yanukovych in a 271-9 vote, with many abstaining or staying away.

Yanukovych’s Party of Regions won the most votes in March parliamentary elections, capitalizing on the president’s falling popularity due to infighting among his allies and the slow pace of change. No party won a majority of seats, and the country fell into political paralysis as parties argued, maneuvered and shifted alliances.

The Party of Regions ultimately formed a coalition with the Socialists, who defected from a coalition that included Yushchenko’s bloc, and the Communists. The new coalition nominated Yanukovych to be premier, the post he had held when he ran against Yushchenko.

Yanukovych formed his Cabinet immediately, packing it with his party members. He surrendered three ministries to Yushchenko, keeping on the current ministers of defense, foreign affairs and the interior.

Yanukovych told journalists his first goal was to form a Cabinet and he hoped to hold its first meeting Friday night. The Cabinet was expected to include members of Yushchenko’s party.

Also Friday, parliament voted to allow foreign troops to participate in military training exercises. Earlier this summer, the government was put in the embarrassing position of canceling planned exercises with U.S. and British troops after anti-NATO protests — some led by Yanukovych’s party.