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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Ukraine's Yanukovych shuns TV face-off with rival

Ukraine's Victor Yanukovich, the frontrunner in a runoff vote for president on Feb. 7, declined on Monday to take part in a television debate with his rival Yulia Tymoshenko, calling her election pledges "dirt and evil".

Aggressive pro-Tymoshenko advertisements have been flagging a possible TV face-to-face between the two rivals, scheduled forFeb. 1evening, saying: "The one who wins these debates, will be Ukraine's next president."

But Yanukovych, a 59-year-old ex-mechanic, who often stumbles over his words and prefers scripted set-pieces to project himself, declined to accept the challenge from Prime Minister Tymoshenko, a voluble public performer.

Tymoshenko, 49, had earlier called him "a marionette of the mafia", referring to the powerful oligarchs backing his campaign.

"Notwithstanding these torrents of dirt and evil poured by Tymoshenko, I will not use her methods of struggle," Yanukovych said in an address to voters.

"I believe that concrete deeds and the word that one that one gives is more important than sweet and pleasing phrases. This is why I deem it indecent to be dragged into empty talk and compete in lies in the run-up to the election."

Tymoshenko, presented now with the opportunity of making a one-sided political broadcast opposite an empty chair, confirmed on her Web site that she herself would be there.

The fiery Tymoshenko, who led 2004 "Orange revolution" street protests sparked by a rigged election in which Yanukovych denied victory, has also sought to exploit her rival's two jail terms for theft and assault as a young man.

Yanukovych won the first round of the election with 35.32 percent of votes, just over 10 percent ahead of Tymoshenko.

The beefy Yanukovych, who usually shrugs off his opponent's barbed remarks with a smile, has tried to polish up an image of a responsible politician ready to be held to account for his actions.

He said late last month that if Tymoshenko would not be held responsible for her actions "her place must be in the kitchen".

Yanukovych enjoys strong support in his native eastern Ukraine and the south, while Tymoshenko's power base lies in the nationalist west and in central regions.

Both candidates speak in favour of closer ties with Europe and building pragmatic relations with giant neighbour Russia -- the source of most of Ukraine's energy imports. Both paint an equally apocalyptical future in the event of them losing on Feb. 7.

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