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Ukraine enters presidential polls home stretch

RIA Novosti


KIEV, January 11 (RIA Novosti) - Ukrainian presidential candidates are preparing to give key speeches as the country prepares for elections on January 17.

Incumbent leader Viktor Yushchenko, who is struggling to get out of single figures in opinion polls, will give a news conference on Tuesday, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko plans a similar event on Thursday and frontrunner Viktor Yanukovych will appear live in a television program on Friday, the last day of the campaign.

Opinion polls pointed to Yanukovych, the president's opponent in the 2004 race, as the leading contender with ratings 10% higher than those of his closest rival Tymoshenko, the incumbent's ally-turned-rival.

The premier, however, was reported to be in talks with other candidates to win their voters' support in the runoff, which is highly likely as none of the contenders is expected to secure more than 50% of the vote.

Both Yanukovych and Tymoshenko pledged to protest against the results if they lose the vote, echoing the 2004 mass street protests known as the "orange revolution" that brought Yushchenko to power amid election fraud accusations against Yanukovych.

Tymoshenko saw in the New Year in on Kiev's central Independence Square, the main site of "orange camp" supporters in 2004.

Observers, however, said a repeat of rallies is unlikely as Ukrainians have grown tired of political infighting aggravated by the economic crisis.

Both Yanukovych, a former premier backed by Russian-speaking eastern regions, and Tymoshenko have pledged to improve ties with Russia, which worsened dramatically over Yushchenko's pursuit of NATO membership, natural gas prices and other issues, while also seeking closer relations with Europe.

Other candidates include former Supreme Rada speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn, businessman Arseniy Yatsenyuk, former defense minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko and Communist leader Petro Symonenko.