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Ukraine's Klitschko ends presidential bid, backs billionaire run - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Ukrainian politicans Vitaly Klitschko (R) and Petro Poroshenko shake hands during an UDAR (Punch) party meeting in Kiev on March 29, 2014. (REUTERS/Andriy Skakodub/Pool )

Ukrainian politicans Vitaly Klitschko (R) and Petro Poroshenko shake hands during an UDAR (Punch) party meeting in Kiev on March 29, 2014. (REUTERS/Andriy Skakodub/Pool )

Kiev, Bloomberg—Former world boxing champion Vitali Klitschko dropped his bid for Ukraine’s presidency to support the frontrunner, billionaire Petro Poroshenko, setting up a clash with ex-Premier Yulia Tymoshenko.

“Democratic forces should have one candidate” amid “the Russian occupation” of Ukraine’s breakaway region of Crimea, Klitschko said Saturday at his UDAR party’s meeting in the capital, Kiev. One of the leaders of the three-month protests that ousted Moscow-backed President Viktor Yanukovych, Klitschko said he’ll run for mayor of Kiev instead.

The decision bolsters Poroshenko, a former economy minister who leads in opinion polls for an election planned for May 25 against all the other contenders, including Tymoshenko and independent candidate Serhiy Tigipko. The one-time premier and opposition leader, who was freed from prison last month, told her party congress on Saturday in Kiev that Ukraine must seek to join the European Union and the continent’s military alliances.

Poroshenko, who owns Ukrainian chocolate maker Roshen, would win in a second-round runoff with a 46.3 percent tally to 11.6 percent for Tymoshenko, the Voters’ Committee said March 26, citing a consensus survey of four polling companies.

“Now the ball is in Tymoshenko’s court as to whether to rally in behind Poroshenko, and drop her candidacy,” Tim Ash, chief emerging-markets economist at Standard Bank Group in London, said by email.

Russia annexed Crimea this month after sending in troops to secure control of the region. The Black Sea peninsula was Russian territory from the 18th century until 1954, when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev gave it as a gift to Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union.

The annexation sparked the biggest dispute between Russia and the US and its allies since the Cold War.

Poroshenko and Tymoshenko were leaders of Ukraine’s 2004 Orange revolution when millions poured onto the streets of Kiev to protest vote-rigging and overturn Yanukovych’s presidential victory. Their squabble in 2005 over corruption allegations, when Tymoshenko was prime minister and Poroshenko headed the security and defense council cleared the way for Yanukovych’s win in parliamentary elections and his premiership the next year.

Poroshenko may pull off a first-round win with more than 50 percent if Tymoshenko withdraws her candidacy, which would “send a very strong signal to external actors that Ukrainians are rallying behind the independence cause, and would strongly affirm the legitimacy of the new administration,” Ash said.