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Tymoshenko, Yanukovych Headed for Feb. 7 Runoff Vote

KIEV — Ukraine faces a Feb. 7 runoff vote between opposition leader Viktor Yanukovych and populist Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko after a presidential election produced no outright winner, official results showed on Monday.

The election will define how Ukraine, a former Soviet republic of 46 million people wedged between the European Union and Russia, handles relations with its powerful neighbors and may help unblock frozen IMF aid for its ailing economy.

Yanukovych, a 59-year-old former mechanic, had a strong lead with 36.86 percent after 50.36 percent of the ballots had been counted from Sunday's election, the Central Election Commission said. Tymoshenko had 24.31 percent.

But analysts expect Tymoshenko to pick up a higher proportion of second-round votes from defeated candidates and say Yanukovych may struggle to extend his appeal beyond his support base in the Russian-speaking east of the country.

Tymoshenko, 49, helped lead the pro-Western Orange Revolution against Yanukovych's rigged 2004 presidential election victory and is most popular in the European-leaning west of the country.

She has hailed the voting pattern as proof that Yanukovych had no chance in the second round on Feb. 7 and called for talks with eliminated candidates.

"As of today, I am ready for talks so that we can move forward with uniting the democratic forces," she told reporters on Sunday.

Two candidates who came third and fourth, former central bank chief Sergey Tigipko and former parliament speaker Arseniy Yatsenyuk, said they would not come out in support of any candidate in the second round.

An aide to Tymoshenko, who amassed a fortune in her years in the gas industry, said however that her camp hoped to meet Tigipko — who has so far won 13.08 percent of the vote — in the next few days.

Both leading candidates have pledged to seek better relations with neigboring energy supplier Russia, in part to avoid the spats of recent years that led to supply cutoffs affecting parts of Europe.

Yanukovych has called for a strong, independent Ukraine following a neutral path and not joining NATO or any other bloc. He attacked Yushchenko for excessively confrontational policies towards Russia and says Ukraine's real enemy is poverty.

His Party of the Regions is allied to the Kremlin's United Russia party, but Yanukovych has been careful to avoid appearing as Moscow's stooge this time around.

He was tarnished by a scandal in 2004, when he initially claimed victory in an election tainted by allegations of fraud and was subsequently swept aside by the Orange Revolution.

Although Tymoshenko initially had stormy relations with Russia, she has tried to patch up her links with the Kremlin of late. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has described her as a person with whom Moscow can do business.

Widespread disenchantment with politics and anger over a deep economic crisis marked Sunday's vote.

Turnout was 67 percent, preliminary official data showed. This compared to 75 percent in the first round of the 2004 poll.

Voters appear to have punished incumbent President Viktor Yushchenko, one of the architects of the Orange Revolution, for the country's recent political infighting.

A survey by the Western-funded National Exit Poll Consortium gave Yushchenko just 6 percent of the ballot.

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