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By Richard Balmforth
KIEV (Reuters) - Ukraine's opposition leader Viktor Yanukovich, ousted in 2005 after mass protests against a rigged presidential poll, launched a comeback bid on Friday with a pledge to end the "chaos" caused by the "Orange revolution" leaders.
Yanukovich, 59, seen as a front-runner for the January 17 election for the presidency, focussed on the bitter rivalry that has sprung up between President Viktor Yushchenko and his erstwhile "Orange" ally, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, since the pro-Western leadership took over.
Opinion polls suggest Yanukovich and Tymoshenko are likely to face-off in a second round showdown in early February. Yushchenko has low ratings and is expected to drop out in the first round.
Victory would be sweet revenge for Yanukovich who was humiliated in 2004 by Yushchenko in what was known as the fight of the two Viktors.
The Supreme Court quashed Yanukovich's victory in the rigged 2004 poll after pro-Yushchenko mass protests against electoral fraud. Yushchenko went on to win a re-run ballot in early 2005.
"Only the unity of power and the people will be the guarantee that Ukraine will be freed from the evil created by the war between the Orange leaders," Yanukovich told a congress of his Party of the Regions where he declared himself candidate for the election.
"Due to the unprofessional ... Orange authorities, the state of Ukraine has been led into bankruptcy, deep division and compromised in the eyes of the world," he said,.
"I can take Ukraine out of chaos, lawlessness and economic ruin only with the support of millions of our compatriots," Yanukovich, a former prime minister, declared.
Five years of in-fighting between Yushchenko, Tymoshenko and parliament has paralyzed decision-making and frustrated reform in one of Europe's worst performing economies.
Yanukovich, who has strongholds in the Russian-speaking east and south and had the backing of the Kremlin when he ran in the rigged 2004 poll, said his foreign policy priority, if elected, would be to renew "a fully-fledged partnership with Russia."
Ukraine would also seek to develop a mutually advantageous partnership with the United States, the European Union and key members of the G20, he said.
Under Yushchenko's pro-Western leadership, relations with Ukraine's former Soviet master Russia have sharply deteriorated.
Moscow has been angered by Yushchenko 's push to take his country into NATO and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has publicly attacked him as anti-Russian.
The two powers have been involved in disputes over the pricing and supply of Russian natural gas across Ukrainian territory to Europe. The Russian Black Sea fleet based in the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol could become a flashpoint.
With three months still to go to voting day, the fight for the presidency in Ukraine is squaring up to be a dirty one.
When official campaigning opened on October 19, Yanukovich's supporters called for a probe into reports that members of Tymoshenko's BYuT bloc were involved in a sex scandal at a Black Sea children's camp.
Tymoshenko loyalists hit back with accusations that Yanukovich was involved in the beating and rape of a woman when a member of a youth gang. His camp have dismissed this accusation as a lie.
During his youth, Yanukovich was imprisoned twice for theft and assault. His aides said the charges were struck from the record and no documents are available on the issue.
(Additional reporting by Yuri Kulikov)