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Ukraine: European Observers Say Polls Did Not Meet Democratic Standards

Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Council of Europe, and NATO say yesterday's presidential polls in Ukraine did not meet "a considerable number" of European standards for democratic elections. But the group also said the polls showed encouraging signs too -- such as the relatively high voter turnout. The statement came as the country's Central Election Commission said less than a percentage point separates the two main candidates with almost all the votes tallied. With no outright winner in the first round, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko will now meet in a decisive runoff in three weeks.

1 November 2004 -- The conclusions of the joint mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Council of Europe, and NATO on yesterday's presidential elections in Ukraine were mixed.

On one hand, Bruce George, head of the OSCE mission in Kyiv, told reporters that the election was "a step backward" from the 2002 parliamentary polls because of a bias by state media for Yanukovych. The OSCE also accused authorities of obstructing opposition activities.

"It is with a heavy heart that on the basis of our findings, we have to conclude that the 2004 presidential elections in Ukraine did not meet a considerable number of OSCE/Council of Europe and other European standards for democratic elections," George said.

On the other hand, the observers did not corroborate the charges of vote fraud that Yushchenko had leveled against the authorities -- despite reported irregularities, including large numbers of voters left off lists and unable to vote. However, the OSCE will not give its full view for another four to six weeks, when it plans to release a formal report on the polls.

In elections that could decide whether Ukraine turns either toward Russia or the West, Ukrainian Central Election Commission Chairman Serhiy Kivalov said both candidates had polled around 40 percent of the vote. "Most likely the Central Election Commission will make the decision to hold a second round of elections," he said. "I will remind you that it will take place on 21 November."

Earlier, the pro-Western Yushchenko had accused authorities of vote rigging. He said a "parallel" vote count on the basis of exit polls from around a third of constituencies had given him an outright win. "Firstly, dear friends, something that Ukrainian democracy has strived to achieve for such a long time has come to pass -- the triumph of Ukraine's democratic forces," he said.

Yushchenko accused Yanukovych's camp of manipulating the vote in eastern areas, such as the prime minister's home region of Donetsk. He said that the government is readying to falsify the results in Donetsk, which alone constitutes 10 percent of voters in Ukraine. "The government has left this territory as a means to regulate the indicators for the election," he said.

Some international election monitors also said there were reports of election fraud. The leader of a Canadian monitoring mission, John Mrzav, said: "We have had reports of violence in cities in eastern Ukraine, where thugs threatened the heads of polling stations unless they produce an 80 percent vote for Yanukovych. We are taking these reports very seriously and investigating them."

Yanukovych, meanwhile, was resting at home today and left it to his campaign chief, Serhiy Tyhypko, to comment for him. Tyhypko insisted the vote was fair. "We managed to retain peace and calm in the country. With my hand on my heart I must say that I was very anxious about that," he said. "I always believed in the wisdom of the Ukrainian people and for this reason Ukraine will be a strong, unified and blossoming country."

Yushchenko, a former prime minister, advocates fuller integration with the EU and NATO. Yanukovych wants Ukraine to draw closer to Russia as part of a Moscow-led common market that also includes Belarus and Kazakhstan.

The final outcome in a runoff could depend on which man wins the most support from the field of 24 other candidates.

Socialist Oleksandr Moroz, third with more than 5 percent, has generally sympathized with challenger Yushchenko. Fourth-place Communist Petro Symonenko has given no indication whom he might back.

(compiled from agency reports)

[For full coverage of Ukraine's presidential elections, see RFE/RL's Ukraine web page.]