Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko greets her supporters during her political party congress at the Independence Square in Kiev. AFP photo.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko has officially launched her bid for the presidency at a massive populist rally in Kyiv's Independence Square. Tens of thousands of supporters chanted her name as her party, the Bloc Yulia Tymoshenko, or BYuT, unanimously nominated her as its candidate for the Jan. 17 presidential election, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty reported.
In a fiery 45-minute speech, Tymoshenko accused President Viktor Yushchenko of betraying the values of the pro-Western Orange Revolution that brought them both to power in 2005. "It's not our fault, and it's not our country's fault, that the leader we elected didn't stand up and protect Ukraine as we expected him to but instead became a mere item in the personal collections of our Ukrainian oligarchs," she said.
The 48-year-old Tymoshenko is considered one of the front-runners for the January election, alongside former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. Wearing a traditional Ukrainian dress and sporting her trademark peasant hair braid, she pledged to "build Europe in Ukraine," fight rampant corruption and improve the judicial system.
She also called for warmer relations with Ukraine's old Soviet master Russia. "At the same time, we don't have the right to have any confrontation with our traditional and friendly neighbors," she said. "I'm sure that our relations with the Russian Federation can be equal and respectable, open and honest, without ambiguities."
Relations with Russia have soured during Yushchenko's five years in power, and the two countries have been involved in bitter disputes over the pricing and supply of Russian natural gas bound for Europe.
Yushchenko and Tymoshenko quickly fell out after being propelled to power during the Orange Revolution, triggered by the victory of Moscow-backed Yanukovych in a rigged poll that was quashed by the Supreme Court.