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Ukraine court to rule on Yushchenko taking power
Updated: 2005-01-17 09:57

Ukraine's Supreme Court hears a final appeal on Monday against Western-leaning Viktor Yushchenko's election as president, but rival Viktor Yanukovich acknowledges he has little chance of overturning the result.

The hearing, forced by former Prime Minister Yanukovich who finished eight points behind in the Dec. 26 ballot, is the last hurdle before Yushchenko can take office after weeks of turmoil in the former Soviet republic.

Ukraine has been in political limbo since November when Yanukovich was declared winner of a rigged election, prompting hundreds of thousands of Yushchenko supporters to take to the streets in protest.

The court, which overturned that vote and triggered the Dec. 26 re-run, opens its hearing at 11 a.m. (0400 EST). The hearing will be shown live on at least one television channel.

Yanukovich, originally backed by neighboring Russia in the election race, has planned a news conference before the sitting.

The court has up to five days to consider the appeal, to be presented by Yanukovich's team of Swiss and Ukrainian lawyers. The team is expected to argue the vote was subject to fraud and influenced by the so-called "orange revolution" mass protests.

International monitors described the December election as a vast improvement over the previous month's poll which they said fell far short of acceptable standards.


Yushchenko says he wants to move Ukraine closer to the West while upholding what he calls strategic ties with Russia. Ukraine's Soviet-era industry depends heavily on imports of gas and oil from Russia itself or through Russian pipes.

Yushchenko's lieutenants are clearly thinking ahead toward government in the country of nearly 50 million.

"Let me assure all Ukrainians that under Yushchenko everyone will feel improvements over five years in power," Petro Poroshenko, a Yushchenko ally and a leading candidate to take over as prime minister, told state television on Sunday.

Priorities would be quick measures to stem endemic corruption and improve the key agricultural sector, he said.

But Yulia Tymoshenko, who roused Yushchenko supporters in Kiev's main square during the mass protests, predicted at the weekend that she would be named prime minister under the terms of a pre-election pact.

Modest crowds gathered on Sunday in two towns in western Ukraine's nationalist heartland to demand Tymoshenko be made prime minister.

Small rallies backing Yanukovich's legal challenge were staged in cities in the Russian-speaking east and south, where the former prime minister won solid backing in the election.

Yushchenko's team has said it would invite leaders of the G8 group of industrialized countries to his inauguration.

Ukraine's decisive westward shift has unexpectedly reopened the question of how far organizations such as the European Union and NATO should open their doors to former Soviet republics once seen as firmly in Moscow's orbit.

The country has a four-year track record of booming, export-driven economic growth and a large trade surplus. This month it announced record gross domestic product growth last year of 12 percent, Europe's best.

But in the past private investors have been worried about bureaucracy, corruption and lack of transparency.

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