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A former top Communist official was renamed prime minister Thursday four years after he was dismissed for his outspoken support for the preservation of the Soviet Union.

Vitaly Masol, 66, was confirmed by parliament on a vote of 199-24. President Leonid Kravchuk put him forward to bolster his support among leftist and eastern Ukrainian voters who favor closer ties with Moscow.Kravchuk is facing a tough battle in the June 26 election, especially against former Prime Minister Leonid Kuchma and former Socialist leader and present parliament speaker Oleksander Moroz.

Both Kuchma and Moroz favor the restoration of links with Moscow as a way of stemming unemployment and improving living standards in Ukraine.

Two and a half years after independence, economic collapse in Ukraine has given rise to a growing powerful lobby advocating greater cooperation between Ukraine and Russia.

In parliamentary elections earlier this year Communists, together with their Socialist and Agrarian Party allies, won over a third of the seats and became the largest bloc in parliament.

Masol was Ukraine's premier for three and a half years until being stripped of his powers in the fall of 1990 as the Ukrainian independence movement gathered momentum and mass student demonstrations clogged the Ukrainian capital, Kiev.

Today an independent legislator, Masol wasted little time in outlining the future course he intends to steer Ukraine.

"The main reason for today's economic turmoil in Ukraine is the disruption of links with our traditional trading partners," Masol told lawmakers Wednesday. "We must restore these links."