World Leaders Congratulate Yanukovych in Ukraine Elections

Congratulations poured in from world leaders for Viktor Yanukovych, the presumptive winner of Ukraine's presidential elections, piling pressure Friday on Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko to concede defeat.

President Obama called Yanukovych on Thursday to congratulate him on winning Sunday's presidential runoff vote.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and European Union President Herman Van Rompuy sent notes of support to Yanukovych on Friday, and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown encouraged Ukraine's EU membership goal under Yanukovych.

The United Kingdom "has long supported Ukraine's EU aspirations and we will continue to do so. A broader EU is a stronger EU," Brown said in a statement Friday.

Tymoshenko, the heroine of the pro-democracy Orange Revolution of 2004, lost the vote by a margin of 3.5 percentage points, according to a preliminary count.

International observers have deemed the election free and fair, hurting Tymoshenko's chances of mounting a successful challenge to the results in court. Still, her allies said they began challenging counts at numerous polling stations in the courts Friday.

Tymoshenko's refusal to concede signals that she is preparing for a drawn-out political battle that could stall the transition of power in Ukraine, limiting Yanukovych's ability to enact policies and repair the battered economy.

"Ukraine needs a president who was elected fairly," said Tymoshenko's campaign chief, Alexander Turchinov.

Turchinov, who also is Ukraine's first deputy prime minister, called for a re-count of the votes at 1,200 polling stations across Ukraine.

Yanukovych's Party of Regions, meanwhile, moved to strip Tymoshenko of her post as prime minister and spread dissent within the ranks of her party.

Anna German, deputy chairwoman of the Party of Regions, said it is working to lure deputies away from the Tymoshenko bloc in parliament and form a new coalition as soon as the Central Election Commission announces the final official results of the vote, expected in a few days.

"We are now in talks to form a new coalition," German told The Associated Press. "The door is open to everyone."

Support for Yanukovych in the international community has legitimized his win.

As prime minister, however, Tymoshenko still has control of the executive branch of government, which analysts say she will use to undermine Yanukovych for as long as she can.

Tymoshenko's acting interior minister, Yury Lutsenko, blamed her defeat on outgoing President Viktor Yushchenko, who helped lead the 2004 Orange protests that vaulted him and Tymoshenko to power.

"The reason for Tymoshenko's defeat is Yushchenko's political betrayal. He resembles the king who betrayed Joan of Arc and sent her to be burned at the stake, even after she had made him the king."

Yanukovych capitalized during the election campaign on the vicious antagonism between Yushchenko and Tymoshenko that ensued soon after they took power. Their bickering often paralyzed the government over the past five years and prevented the Orange leaders from staving off an economic collapse last year.