KIEV, Ukraine — Ukraine's embattled Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko appeared in public for the first time in days Thursday but still ignored calls to concede defeat in the presidential election and resign her post.
Tymoshenko, looking tense but determined, appeared before the media for the first time since Sunday's election to chair a government meeting. She did not comment on the elections directly but took a swipe at the pro-Russian opposition leader Viktor Yanukovych, who defeated her by a margin of 3.5 percentage points, according to the final preliminary vote count.
Her refusal to admit defeat signals that Tymoshenko is digging in for a long power struggle with Yanukovych. Analysts say her strategy now appears aimed at undermining Yanukovych's attempts to consolidate power and enact legislation.
"It is already obvious today that nobody from Yanukovych's team has any intention of raising social standards," Tymoshenko told the government meeting. "Already, after the election, we are starting to discover huge pre-election deceptions and people should factor that into their future political calculations."
But an increasing number of congratulatory messages to Yanukovych from foreign leaders are adding to his potential leverage against Tymoshenko. Both Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili and President Barack Obama sent such messages on Thursday.
Tymoshenko's campaign has continued to demand recounts at numerous polling stations across the country and has warned that it will challenge the vote in the courts.
But in a sign of a possible split within Tymoshenko's camp, a key ally urged the prime minister's supporters to prepare to take up their role as the official opposition.
"We are seriously checking the conduct of the election, but we are even more serious about preparing for our activity as the opposition," said Mykola Tomenko, a deputy parliament speaker and a member of Tymoshenko's bloc.
Yanukovych's Party of Regions condemned Tymoshenko's refusal to accept defeat and said it reflected her unwillingness to accept the will of the people.
"She should cease this deceitful behavior and accept what the people of Ukraine have voted for — Viktor Yanukovych has won these elections," said Boris Kolesnikov, deputy leader of Yanukovych's Party of Regions.
Yanukovych's victory was a repudiation of the 2004 Orange Revolution, when Tymoshenko and the outgoing President Viktor Yushchenko led weeks of mass demonstrations against the rigged election won by Yanukovych.
The Supreme Court eventually ordered a revote, which Yushchenko won, unseating Yanukovych and pushing him into the opposition.
But Yanukovych has capitalized on the vicious antagonism between Yushchenko and Tymoshenko that ensued soon after they took power. Their bickering has often paralyzed the government over the past five years and prevented the Orange leaders from staving off an economic collapse last year.
Yanukovych's Party of Regions is now attempting to form a new coalition in parliament.
Thousands of his supporters continued to rally outside the Central Election Commission on Thursday to block any attempt by Tymoshenko to call mass protests. It is not clear anyway how many would follow that call.
"I came to the (2004) demonstrations. But that won't happen again," Stanislav Krasnov, a 52-year-old security guard, told The Associated Press. "No one will come out onto the streets for her now. She'd be standing here by herself."
Associated Press Writers Peter Leonard and Yuras Karmanau contributed to this report.