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Ukraine poll 'won by opposition'


Talon

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Ukraine poll 'won by opposition'

First exit polls from Ukraine's bitterly fought presidential election point to a run-off win for pro-Western opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko.

He is predicted to get more than 50% of the vote, against just over 40% for the Prime Minister, Viktor Yanukovych.

The campaign team of Moscow-backed Mr Yanukovych has contested the figures, saying their candidate was in the lead.

Mr Yushchenko, who narrowly won the first voting round, has threatened mass protests if Sunday's result is rigged.

The capital, Kiev, is on high alert, with extra police and soldiers on the streets.

Ukraine's Central Election Commission is being guarded by at least four water cannon and two armoured personnel carriers.

Turnout was at 76% despite plummeting temperatures, election officials said.

Counting began immediately after the polls closed at 1800 GMT, with the first official results expected to be announced in the coming hours.

However, the BBC's Helen Fawkes in Kiev says it could take some time for the final figures to be known.

After the first round on 31 October, it was 10 days before the overall result was released.

Then, Mr Yushchenko garnered 39.87% of the vote, compared to Mr Yanukovych's 39.32%.

International observers and the opposition said the first round was a step backwards for democracy in the former Soviet republic of 48 million people, alleging widespread fraud and intimidation.

Sea of orange

Tens of thousands of opposition supporters have answered Mr Yushchenko's rallying call to gather in Kiev's main square.

A huge screen has been erected in the city's Independence Square to hold a parallel vote counting.

There were wild cheers among opposition supporters, clad in the orange campaign colours, after figures from the first two exit polls were released.

Mr Yushchenko's campaign chief, Okeksander Zinchenko, said the exit polls showed "a clear victory for our candidate", urging opposition backers to "defend this victory".

The first exit poll, conducted by several Ukrainian research organisations, gave Mr Yuchshenko 54% of the vote, against Mr Yanukovych's 43%.

The results were based on the answers of 77% of 30,000 voters questioned at nearly 500 polling stations around the country.

Another poll - by Ukraine's Social Monitoring Centre - put Mr Yushchenko ahead by 49.5% to 45.9%.

However, Mr Yanukovych's camp has described the figures as ridiculous.

Mr Yanukovych's campaign manager, Serhiy Tyhipko, said research by their own team showed the prime minister was in the lead by 3 to 5%.

Experts point out that some of the exit polls conducted after the first voting round had been inaccurate.

'Dirty tricks'

Both sides have complained of problems during Sunday's voting.

The authorities are investigating the killing of a policeman who was guarding ballot papers in a village in central Ukraine. The motive for the killing is not known.

Police said eight ballot boxes were set on fire in a western pro-Yushchenko part of Ukraine, AFP news agency reported.

Both the US and the European Union say future relations with Ukraine depend on Sunday's vote being conducted fairly.

During the campaign, Mr Yushchenko, prime minister between 1999 and 2001, claimed to have been the victim of intimidation and dirty tricks, including an alleged poisoning attempt.

His critics portray him as an American puppet who will do anything to gain power, including inciting civil unrest.

Moscow has made it clear it is fully behind Mr Yanukovych.

Shadow of violence

On the eve of the run-off ballot, Mr Kuchma - who is finishing his second consecutive term as president - warned in a televised address to the nation that the authorities would not allow the democratic process of the election "to turn into undemocratic violence."

He said: "There will be no revolution, but elections worthy of a European country in the 21st Century."

Mr Kuchma - who is backing Mr Yanukovych - implied that the opposition was threatening to take power by force.

"The authorities will never allow an aggressive minority to dictate political logic. We are already hearing calls for violence," he said.

Story from BBC NEWS:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/worl...ope/4029635.stm

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Ukraine gripped by vote stand-off

Thousands of Ukrainians have thronged major cities to protest against an election result they consider flawed.

Opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko told supporters to stage a civil disobedience campaign.

The western city of Lviv has declared Mr Yushchenko the new president - defying the authorities, who say Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych won.

The senior US election observer in Ukraine, Senator Richard Lugar, alleged "concerted and forceful" fraud.

Observers for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said Sunday's run-off vote fell far short of European democratic norms.

Mr Yushchenko, seen as the pro-Western candidate, told thousands of people who braved sub-zero temperatures in the capital, Kiev, not to leave the rally "until victory".

"We are launching an organised movement of civil resistance," he said, denouncing what he called the "total falsification" of the vote which followed days of acrimonious wrangling over the results of the first round.

'Media bias'

In Lviv, too, thousands of people turned onto the streets, while the city council said it would only take orders from Mr Yushchenko.

With nearly all the votes counted, the authorities say Prime Minister Yanukovych has a narrow lead.

On a count of 99% of the vote, Mr Yanukovych had 49.4% while Mr Yushchenko was on 46.7%, according to the central electoral commission.

But the opposition says it has recorded many thousands of irregularities - including very high turnouts in government strongholds.

Mr Yanukovych was backed by incumbent President Leonid Kuchma and the Russian authorities.

Exit polls earlier suggested that Mr Yushchenko had been on course for victory with a lead of at least six percentage points.

"The second round did not meet a considerable number of [international] commitments for democratic elections," said Bruce George, head of the OSCE mission in Kiev.

He told a news conference that the Ukrainian authorities "did not respond positively" to election monitors' appeals to put right problems encountered in the first round.

"The abuse of state resources in favour of the prime minister continued, as well as an overwhelming media bias in his favour," Mr George said.

'Total fraud'

Mr Yushchenko's supporters say they do not believe the official turnout figure of 96% in eastern Ukraine.

"I believe in my victory but the government... has staged total fraud in the elections in the [eastern] Donetsk and Lugansk regions," Mr Yushchenko said.

In the first round, the mainly Russian-speaking eastern regions showed strong support for Mr Yanukovych - a former governor of Donetsk.

Kiev is on high alert, with extra police and soldiers on the streets.

The central electoral commission is being guarded by at least four water cannon and two armoured personnel carriers.

During the campaign, Mr Yushchenko, prime minister between 1999 and 2001, claimed to have been the victim of intimidation and dirty tricks, including an alleged poisoning attempt.

His critics portray him as an American puppet who will do anything to gain power, including inciting civil unrest.

Turnout was at 79% despite plummeting temperatures, election officials said earlier.

The OSCE said there were "serious violations" in Sunday's voting, including intimidation of observers and voters.

The authorities are investigating the killing of a policeman who was guarding ballot papers in a village in central Ukraine. The motive for the killing is not known.

Story from BBC NEWS:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/worl...ope/4031981.stm

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Ukraine cities defy poll result

Officials in several Ukrainian cities have refused to accept the outcome of Sunday's presidential election.

Tens of thousands of protesters have rallied to contest the official victory for Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, amid Western concern over the vote.

Opposition challenger Viktor Yushchenko has told supporters to stage a civil disobedience campaign.

But central security authorities are warning that they are ready to put down any lawlessness "quickly and firmly".

"We appeal to the organisers of mass protests to assume responsibility for their possible consequences," the prosecutor general and the interior ministry said in a statement.

The central electoral commission said that, with more than 99% of the vote counted, Mr Yanukovych had 49.4% of ballots while Mr Yushchenko had 46.7%.

But the opposition says it has recorded many thousands of irregularities - including very high turnouts in government strongholds.

By late evening on Monday, thousands of opposition supporters had left Kiev's Independence Square after demonstrating for more than 12 hours. But several hundred people planned to spend the night in tents in the area.

The opposition told people come back on Tuesday morning for a protest outside parliament, when MPs are due to discuss the contested election result.

The US state department said it was "deeply concerned" about the election and threatened to review its relations with Ukraine if the government failed to investigate the allegations of election fraud.

"Should, in the final analysis, this election prove to be fundamentally flawed and tarnished, we would certainly need to review our relations with the Ukraine and consider further steps against individuals who had engaged in fraud," spokesman Adam Ereli said.

'Splitting Ukraine'

Mr Yushchenko, seen as the pro-Western candidate, earlier told his supporters in the capital not to leave their rally "until victory".

"We are launching an organised movement of civil resistance," he said, denouncing what he called the "total falsification" of the vote, which followed days of acrimonious wrangling over the results of the first round.

Kiev city council refused to recognise the results, and urged parliament to follow suit.

Thousands of people also turned onto the streets in the western city of Lviv, where the city council said it would only take orders from Mr Yushchenko.

Three other cities in opposition strongholds in western Ukraine have said they considered the opposition candidate the legal president.

The city councils' move is likely to be seen as a symbolic moral victory for the opposition - although the councils have much less power than the central authorities, observers say.

Mr Yanukovych has called for national unity and criticised the call for public protests.

"This small group of radicals has taken upon itself the goal of splitting Ukraine," he said in comments reported by AP news agency.

'Concerted' fraud

Observers for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said Sunday's run-off vote fell far short of European democratic norms.

The organisation, which also reported serious irregularities in the first round, said violations included a continuing "media bias" in favour of Mr Yanukovych and intimidation of observers and voters.

The US' official observer, Senator Richard Lugar, alleged "concerted and forceful" fraud and the EU called on Ukraine to review the election.

However, Moscow, which backed Prime Minister Yanukovych, recognised the result.

Exit polls earlier suggested that Mr Yushchenko had been on course for victory with a lead of at least six percentage points.

His supporters say they do not believe the official turnout figure of 96% in eastern Ukraine.

During the campaign, Mr Yushchenko, prime minister between 1999 and 2001, claimed to have been the victim of intimidation and dirty tricks, including an alleged poisoning attempt.

His critics portray him as an American puppet who will do anything to gain power, including inciting civil unrest.

Story from BBC NEWS:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/worl...ope/4033475.stm

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