Ukraine PM attacks 'coward' rival

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The Independent Online

Ukraine's Yulia Tymoshenko relished a solo performance on television last night, heaping insults on arch foe Viktor Yanukovych after he shunned a prime-time debate with her ahead of a presidential run-off.

Facing an empty rostrum where Mr Yanukovych should have stood in their scheduled 100-minute duel, the Prime Minister Ms Tymoshenko branded him "a common coward" for not turning up. "I believe that an empty spot is exactly what he is," said Ms Tymoshenko, wearing her trademark braids. "And although he is absent from here, I can feel his smell. This is the smell of fear. I do not want a common coward to become the next leader of our nation," she said.

Opposition leader Mr Yanukovych, the frontrunner in next Sunday's poll, yesterday declined to take part in the debate with Ms Tymoshenko, calling her election vows "dirt and evil".

The Prime Minister's personal attack on her 59-year-old rival appeared to rule out any alliance between them after the election.

Mr Yanukovych, whose support base is in the east and south, won the first round of the election with 35 per cent of vote, 10 per cent ahead of Ms Tymoshenko. But she can make up this ground if she strengthens her position in western and central regions.

Mr Yanukovych, who often stumbles over his words and prefers scripted speeches to project himself, told voters he would abstain from a public debate to avoid Ms Tymoshenko's "torrents of dirt and evil". "I believe that concrete deeds and the word 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," he said.

Ms Tymoshenko led the 2004 "Orange Revolution" sparked by a rigged election in which Mr Yanukovych was denied victory