KIEV – Ukrainian world boxing champion and opposition leader Vitali Klitschko said Thursday he would challenge President Viktor Yanukovych in elections due in March 2015.
“In order to put an end to various rumors 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 rumored for months but the timing of the announcement came as 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 favor of his political ally.