UKRAINE'S INCUMBENT PM DOESN'T WANT PRESIDENCY AT ALL COSTS

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MOSCOW, September 17 (RIA Novosti) - Viktor Yanukovich, the incumbent Prime Minister of Ukraine, does not want to win the presidency at all costs; what he aspires to is a victory in a free and fair presidential election, Yanukovich Campaign Chair Sergei Tigipko said at a press conference on the RIA premises Friday. According to him, the gap between Yanukovich and his main challenger Viktor Yushchenko, leader of the Our Ukraine opposition bloc, is currently less than 5 percent.

It is clear already that constituencies in southeastern Ukraine will vote for Yanukovich while western constituencies will cast their ballots for Yushchenko, Tigipko said.

He expects the polls to be held in two rounds. If there is no clear winner in the first round, the runoff will be staged for November 21.

Speaking of Yanukovich's campaign, Tigipko pointed out that the incumbent government had created conditions for substantial economic growth. According to him, Ukraine's Gross Domestic Product is now growing at a rate of 13 percent. "Any country would find it difficult to sustain a growth rate that high, but there are grounds to predict that Ukraine's economy will be growing at 8 or 9 percent in 2005," he said. The investment climate in Ukraine will improve appreciably if Yanukovich wins the presidency, his campaign chairman says.

In reply to a question about the alleged poisoning of Yushchechko ahead of the polls, Tigipko expressed doubt there had been a conspiracy and that any of the 25 other presidential hopefuls was behind it.

Alexander Zinchenko, who heads Yushchenko's team, said Friday that someone must have plotted to poison the opposition candidate. According to Zinchenko, Yushchenko got sick on September 5, after a campaigning trip to Chernigov. His doctors thought he had come down with a flu, and they spent the next five days treating him with appropriate therapies and medications. On September 10, Yushchenko was sent to the Austrian clinic Rudolfinnerhaus, where he was diagnosed as having acute pancreatitis. Subsequent tests showed that the condition had been caused by non-food substances.

The presidential vote is scheduled for October 31. Twenty-six candidates are running.

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