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Ukrainian President Lashes Out At Opposition

Prague, 29 October 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Outgoing Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma lashed out at the opposition on the eve of the country's presidential election, saying that "if there is any threat to the elections it comes from them."

Speaking at a press conference in Chernihiv, Kuchma accused "certain presidential candidates" of "losing the confidence of voters" and "unleashing rallies and clashes," Interfax-Ukraine reported.

Kuchma was apparently referring to a 100,000-strong rally of supporters of opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko that took place in Kyiv on 23 October. During the rally, clashes took place between some marchers and police in front of the Central Election Commission headquarters. Police claimed that marchers were trying to storm the building, while the opposition maintained that the police instigated the fighting by throwing smoke grenades at the marchers.

During the press conference, Kuchma also commented on a letter signed by a group of 139 prominent Ukrainian journalists on 28 October in which they claimed that the presidential administration had pressured them to support the candidacy of the government's candidate, Viktor Yanukovych. "They can quit their jobs if they are unhappy with the rules of the collective they work for," Kuchma reportedly said. "If miners, metallurgists, bakers, and welders are unhappy with their place of work they quit and go elsewhere."

The journalists, most of whom work for pro-government television stations, are continuing to gather signatures. Some handed in their letters of resignation on 20 October.

The fairness of the election campaign in Ukraine has become an issue that is being followed closely by the Council of Europe and the government of the United States, both of which have called for open and free elections in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian government are perceived to be supporting Yanukovych's candidacy.

On 28 October, Putin was in Kyiv to take part in commemorations marking the 60 anniversary of the liberation of Ukraine from German armies during World War II.

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