Ukrainian world champion boxer Vitali Klitschko to run for president

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 October, 2013, 4:27am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 October, 2013, 4:27am

Ukrainian world boxing champion and opposition leader Vitali Klitschko said yesterday he would challenge President Viktor Yanukovych in elections due in March 2015.

"In order to put an end to various rumours and attempts to finish me off as a potential candidate, I would like to announce the following: I am running for president," Klitschko told a session of parliament.

The 42-year-old heavyweight champion is an ally of the jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko and one of the most popular figures in the former Soviet republic of 45 million people.

His anti-corruption UDAR (Punch) party rose out of nowhere to claim third place in last year's parliamentary elections and Klitschko himself has led recent public opinion polls.

His presidential ambitions have been rumoured for months but the timing of the announcement came as something of a surprise.

The European Union is now putting intense pressure on Ukraine to release and pardon Tymoshenko - a former prime minister jailed on disputed abuse of power charges - and Klitschko had previously said he might bow out of the race in favour of his political ally.

Klitschko's announcement came shortly after Yanukovych's ruling party helped carry a motion that could deal a fatal blow to the boxer's presidential plans.

The new amendment to an existing law bars people who have the right of residency in foreign countries from running for president in Ukraine.

Klitschko had spent much of his time in previous years living and training in Germany - a country whose language he speaks and where he won many of his boxing titles.

"Yes, I have residency rights in Germany," Klitschko told the parliament session. "But this does not contravene Ukrainian law or annul my citizenship."

Additional reporting by Reuters