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Home » Archives » November 2004 » Opposition Disputes Ukrainian Election

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11/22/2004: "Opposition Disputes Ukrainian Election"

Opposition Disputes Ukrainian Election
By ANNA MELNICHUK, Associated Press Writer
KIEV, Ukraine - Official results showed the prime minister winning Ukraine's bitterly fought presidential runoff, but his opponent declared fraud and called supporters into the streets Monday after observers said the vote did not meet international standards.
AP Photo More than 10,000 opposition supporters gathered in Kiev's main Independence Square, where candidate Viktor Yushchenko urged his backers to demonstrate against alleged vote rigging. "We will not leave this place until we win," Yushchenko, wearing a scarf in his campaign color, orange, told the crowd. "The people's will cannot be broken. People's votes cannot be stolen." Exit polls showed Yushchenko, a pro-Western reformer, winning Sunday's vote, while official results gave victory to Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych ? raising tensions in a battle for the presidency that many from the start have feared could lead to violence.

Some 20,000 protesters rallied in Lviv, a Yushchenko stronghold in western Ukraine. As night fell in the capital, Kiev, demonstrators jammed the city's main avenue for several blocks.

As protesters milled outside the capital's city council building, its members inside passed a resolution calling on the national parliament to not recognize the election results. Three other sizable cities Lviv, Ternopil, Vinnytsia and Ivano-Frankivsk announced they recognized Yushchenko as president, news agencies reported.

A prominent group of foreign observers said Monday the vote did not meet international democratic standards.

The joint mission representing the Organization for Security and Cooperation (news - web sites) in Europe, the Council of Europe, the European Parliament and NATO (news - web sites) said they observed abuse of state resources in favor of the prime minister, who has the support of the outgoing president Leonid Kuchma and the government of Russia, Ukraine's powerful neighbor.

The observer group, which had denounced abuses in the election's first round, said authorities had failed to fix the flaws.

"With an even heavier heart than three weeks ago, I have to repeat the message from the first round: This election did not meet a considerable number of international standards for democratic elections," said Bruce George, the team's leader.

Even stronger criticism came from Richard Lugar, chairman of the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee, who said "a concerted and forceful program of election-day fraud and abuse was enacted with either the leadership or cooperation of governmental authorities."

President Bush (news - web sites), who sent Lugar to Kiev as his envoy, warned last week that Washington would reconsider its relations with Ukraine in the event of a fraudulent election.

European Union (news - web sites) foreign ministers called on Ukrainian authorities to "urgently" review presidential election results, arguing that the vote had "clearly fallen short" of international standards.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (news - web sites), however, sent a statement to Yanukovych late Monday to congratulate him on the result, Russian news agencies reported.

With more than 99 percent of precincts counted, Prime Minister Yanukovych had 49.42 percent, compared to Yushchenko's 46.70 percent, the Central Election Commission said.

But an exit poll, conducted by anonymous questionnaires under a program funded by several Western governments, including the United States, gave Yushchenko 54 percent of the vote, with Yanukovych trailing with 43 percent. Another poll put Yushchenko ahead by 49.4 to 45.9 percent, the Interfax news agency reported.

Yanukovych spokesman Stepan Havrysh dismissed the the exit poll results as "incorrect, unscientific and even comical."

Yushchenko said the opposition will stage a "threefold offensive" aimed at battling election fraud: demanding an emergency parliamentary session, setting up a protest tent camp in central Kiev and challenging suspected voting violations in the courts.

Many tents were already up, blocking traffic in the capital. Meanwhile, many cars driving by the election commission's headquarters honked their horns in a sign of protest. The commission's office was heavily guarded by riot police and armored vehicles.

Yushchenko's key ally, Yulia Tymoshenko, called on Ukrainians to begin a general strike. "Stop working, stop learning, make it all stop," she said.

The election was seen as determining whether this ex-Soviet republic of 48 million tilts toward the West or its traditional patron, Russia. The bitter campaign also sparked fears that Ukraine could erupt into civil unrest as distrust in the government's ability to conduct a credible vote grew.

Yushchenko foes claimed the opposition gathering in the square could try to foment civil unrest with the aim of seizing power.

"Let us negotiate quietly, let's differentiate between the truth and the dirt,and let's figure out all Yushchenko's complaints," said Vadym Konovalyuk, a lawmaker and a Yanukovych supporter.

Both camps have complained of voting problems, and throughout Sunday there were numerous media reports of scuffles at polling stations, observers being barred and journalists being detained. One policeman guarding a polling station was found dead Sunday after apparently being hit over the head by intruders, news reports said.

Yushchenko and some of his associates went to the election commission early Monday, contending that some precincts showed improbably high turnout figures of as much as 96 percent. Some 79 percent of registered voters turned out to vote nationwide.

Yushchenko's campaign also complained that Yanukovych supporters were given absentee ballots and bused out of their native regions and back again so they could vote twice.

Yanukovych's side, meanwhile, cited voter list problems and said some stations refused to give out absentee ballots in violation of the law. Legislators had voted to prohibit the use of absentee ballots amid fears that they could be used to falsify the results, but Kuchma refused to sign the measure Friday.

The election came after months of opposition allegations of official interference, claims Yushchenko was poisoned and a cliffhanger first-round vote riddled with complaints of intimidation.

Yushchenko says he wants to push the country to greater integration with Western Europe and has suggested seeking NATO membership.

His critics frequently portray him as an American puppet and a nationalist who would split Ukraine and alienate Russia, Ukraine's key trade partner and main energy supplier.

Yanukovych was expected to pursue close ties with Moscow; he has proposed making Russian a second official language and supports continuing Ukraine's participation in an embryonic economic union with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

Ukraine has a large contingent of soldiers in Iraq (news - web sites), but both candidates support withdrawing them.

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