Ukraine's pro-Western liberals on Monday prepared for coalition talks to keep the Russia-backed winner of Sunday's parliamentary election in opposition, though President Viktor Yushchenko quashed talk of any quick deal, Reuters reported.

Thwarting Yulia Tymoshenko, his one-time "Orange Revolution" ally who said a liberal coalition could in principle be decided on Monday, Yushchenko said such talks could be held only when the election vote-count was complete.

"It is logical to start talks on a coalition after the official declaration of the election results. This is the president's position," Ivan Vasyunyk, first deputy head of the president's secretariat, told reporters.

Complete results were expected on Tuesday, but with 40 percent counted an "orange coalition" of three liberal parties had a majority even though the Russia-backed Regions Party had the largest number of votes.

There was no direct word from Yushchenko, who appears to have been humiliated in a poll that has left his Our Ukraine party in a poor third place behind Tymoshenko's bloc.

An aide to the charismatic Tymoshenko said he believed the president's Our Ukraine party was split over which way to jump.

"The party's so-called business wing is calling for a broad coalition with the Regions Party, while the political wing wants to stick to previous agreements within the 'orange' coalition," Mykola Tomenko told Unian news agency.

But in slowing any coalition-building, the president showed he did not want to be bulldozed into an agreement by Tymoshenko, now vying for the role of "orange" standard-bearer.

"There is a very simple explanation -- Our Ukraine wants to take a break and come to terms with what happened. And there is a good way out for them: there are no complete election results yet," said independent political analyst Oleksander Dergachev.

Pundits suggested before the election that Yushchenko might form a coalition with Yanukovich, the man he defeated in a re-run of a disputed presidential election in 2004.

But Yushchenko now seems destined to have to patch up differences instead with Tymoshenko, just as difficult for him.

Tymoshenko, 45, has made it clear she wants her old job of prime minister back in a three-way liberal coalition bringing together her bloc, Our Ukraine and the Socialists.

That would hardly delight Yushchenko, who sacked her last September after infighting over corruption charges.

The two have been on poor terms since. Her interventionist views do not sit well with Yushchenko's free market values.


The liberals appeared to be preoccupied by political maneuvering -- just over a year since Yushchenko came to power after heady protests now known as the Orange Revolution.

Disillusionment over divisions and an economic slowdown helped Yanukovich's Regions Party to first place.

Yanukovich, strong in Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine, seized on his win to urge parties to team up with him. He, too, said formal negotiations should await the final vote count.

Incomplete results showed the liberals, who have set the country of 47 million on a course to join Europe's mainstream, could still control parliament and frustrate his comeback.

The results gave the Regions Party had 27 percent. The Yulia Tymoshenko bloc was in second place with 23.5 percent and Our Ukraine had 16.2 percent.

The election got a clean bill of health from international observers and the European Union, where Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana said the bloc looked forward "to continuing and deepening our partnership with Ukraine."

"All indications are this appears to be a free and fair election," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.

If they do form a coalition, the Orange Revolution leaders will be under pressure to deliver on reforms.

Ukraine's export-led economic growth has slowed markedly over the last year due to lower world prices for steel and chemicals, its major exports, and a lack of investment.


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