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Ukrainian Presidential Candidates Vie for Support

With 100 percent of the votes counted by Ukraine's Central Election Commission, frontrunner Viktor Yanukovych has a 10-point lead from Sunday's first round of balloting.

Contenders for the presidency of Ukraine are vying for political support as the final vote tally shows a 10 percent gap separating frontrunner Viktor Yanukovych from Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who finished second in Sunday's first round of voting.

With 100 percent of the votes counted by Ukraine's Central Election Commission, the tally gives Yanukovych just over 35 percent of the total, or roughly 8.7 million votes. Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko checks in just a notch over 25 percent or nearly 6.2 million votes.

Ms. Tymoshenko lost no time in seeking the support of the third-place finisher, businessman and former economics minister Serhiy Tihipko. She is offering him the opportunity to succeed her as head of government if she wins the presidency on February 7 when the second round of voting is scheduled. She says her platform is 90 percent consistent with that of Tihipko and several of the 18 candidates in first-round balloting.

Tymoshenko says her offer to Tihipko proposes not only to combine their political programs and vision of Ukrainian development, but also to be his reliable partner in that difficult, but fulfilling task. She adds that she is also offering him the position of prime minister, if that is his ambition.

Tihipko, the subject of much political speculation in Ukraine, says he will not throw his support to any candidate. He ran Yanukovych's failed presidential campaign in 2004.

Yanukovych says he respects the businessman and knows him well.

The frontrunner notes Tihipko left Ukrainian politics after the 2004 election, and was not seen by the people. That, says Yanukovych, was his personal matter, but it did not change the frontrunner's relationship with Tihipko.

Meanwhile, incumbent President Viktor Yushchenko says he accepts the election results. But he adds "national and government responsibilities do not give him the moral right to leave the country's political life." In a comment directed against the second-round candidates, Mr. Yushchenko says Ukrainian, European and democratic values are alien to them.

Both presidential hopefuls propose improving relations with Russia that deteriorated under Mr. Yushchenko. They are also seeking continued relations with the West.

Yulia Tymoshenko is once again challenging Viktor Yanukovych to a televised debate, which his representatives say he declines.

In other election results, the Communist Party candidate, Petro Symonenko, received about three percent or less than 900,000 votes. Colorful protest candidate Vasyl Protyvsikh, or Vasyl Against All, came in 14th with just more than 40,000 of a total of more than 24.5 million votes. More than two percent of the voters did not cast a ballot for anyone.