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Ukraine's pro-Western coalition has appointed Orange Revolution leader Yulia Tymoshenko as prime minister and named a government.

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Deputies in the single-chamber Rada voted 226-0 — the absolute minimum for a vote to pass — in favour of Ms Tymoshenko, proposed by pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko. The opposition, who control just under half of the 450 seats, boycotted the vote.

The ruling coalition then voted in a new government, including Volodymyr Ogryzko, a strong proponent of Ukraine entering NATO and the European Union, as foreign minister.

Opposition boycott

Tymoshenko supporters cheered following her victory. However, the boycott by opposition deputies, who oppose the NATO bid and back closer ties with Russia, reflects the bitter divisions in this country of 46 million people.

Sandwiched between Poland and Russia, Ukraine is a key transit route for Russian natural gas to the European Union and has had strained relations with President Vladimir Putin's Kremlin since Ms Tymoshenko and Mr Yushchenko led the 2004 Orange Revolution.

Ms Tymoshenko has called for a shake-up in the way Ukraine buys gas from Russia.

In Moscow's first reaction to her appointment however, Mr Putin's European affairs advisor Sergei Yastrzhembsky offered congratulations and promised that Russia would be a “stable, predictable” partner.

Ms Tymoshenko's victory in parliament comes a week after a first vote failed to pass by just a single deputy.

On this occasion, deputies voted one by one in a show of hands to avoid a repeat of the previous week when Ms Tymoshenko's coalition claimed that tampering with the electronic system had been responsible for her defeat.

The victory of Ms Tymoshenko, the country's most colourful leader who is rumoured to be eyeing the presidency, will now test her tempestuous relationship with Mr Yushchenko.

Famous for her white clothes, traditional braided hair-do and passionate speaking style, she is adored by supporters in western Ukraine, but vilified by her enemies, many of whom live in the more pro-Russian east of the country.

Orange Revolution

She and Mr Yushchenko rose to fame when they led the 2004 Orange Revolution protests that forced a re-run of a rigged presidential election victory by Moscow-backed rival Viktor Yanukovych, who now heads the opposition.

Mr Yushchenko won the re-run and appointed Ms Tymoshenko premier, but their alliance fell apart shortly after. She was sacked in September 2005.

The break-up of the Orange alliance forced Mr Yushchenko to allow in Mr Yanukovych as his premier, prompting political gridlock and leading to snap parliamentary elections this September.

The Orange team won a razor-thin majority in the September election, but have so far failed to resolve the political crisis.

On Tuesday, the fiery Ms Tymoshenko accused the opposition of corruption and said “they are petrified that… I will put order into the state.”

“This vote will be a moment of truth, a test of solidarity for the democratic coalition,” she said.

But faced with a more powerful opposition and a president determined to contain it, Ms Tymoshenko may well prove less radical during her second go as prime minister, said Volodymyr Fesenko, head of the Penta research centre.

“The lesson was learned and the errors of the past (notably efforts to roll back privatisation) will not be reproduced,” said another analyst, Andry Dmytrenko of Dragon Capital investment firm.

Moscow relations strained

Underlining the strains between Ukraine's pro-Western leadership and Moscow, Russian energy giant Gazprom warned on Sunday of a risk of “tensions” with Ukraine's future government.

Ukraine relies heavily on Russian gas imports and has baulked in the past at steep price rises. A price dispute in 2006 led to Russia briefly cutting supplies, with a serious knock-on effect across Europe.

Problems could arise “if a new government is elected that tries to modify the accord signed” earlier this month concerning the price of gas deliveries to Ukraine, said Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kuprianov.

“There have been statements in that regard by the Ukrainian party and that worries us,” he added, alluding to comments by Ms Tymoshenko's party.

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