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Ukraine: Voters Go To Polls In Crucial Presidential Vote

A campaign poster for Yanukovych The second and decisive round of Ukraine's presidential election began this morning and many Ukrainian and foreign observers believe the result will decide whether Ukraine deepens its democracy and turns to the West or is drawn closer into Moscow's orbit and heads down the increasingly autocratic route of Russia and Belarus. The two candidates are the pro-Russian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and the pro-democracy leader of the opposition Our Ukraine coalition, Viktor Yushchenko, who narrowly won the election's first round on 31 October. International observers said the first round was deeply flawed and backed many of the opposition allegations accusing the government of using dirty tricks and intimidation to help Yanukovych. The opposition has vowed it will hold mass demonstrations if the government again uses massive fraud to influence the results of today's election. Outgoing President Leonid Kuchma has vowed that the vote will be honest, while also warning that "certain political forces" are trying to seize power, seen as a clear allusion to Yushchenko.

For more coverage of the presidential election in the Ukrainian language, see our Ukrainian Service website

Kyiv, 21 November 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Ukraine's second, decisive round of the presidential election began early this morning with the opposition making allegations that the government was using fraud to help its candidate Prime Mkinister Viktor Yanukovych.

The opposition "Our Ukraine" coalition led by candidate Viktor Yushchenko, said that the government was bussing the same people around different polling stations so they could vote multiple times using specially issued absentee voting documents.

Many state employees have come forward across the country in recent days to say they were being forced to take part in absentee voter fraud if they wanted to keep their jobs. The opposition and election observers said the method had been used massively in the first round.

Students from the pro-opposition youth group, Pora, layed down in front of buses this morning that they alleged were carrying such fraudulent voters, preventing them leaving. They shouted "shame" and "strength through unity" during the protest.

Most of the people boarding the buses refused to speak but one man, who did not give his name, said they were not going to vote but were all going on a picnic.

"These people are going out for a picnic. The weather is bad in Kyiv so they are off for a picnic," he claimed.

Some 27 million registered voters are expected to cast ballots at more than 35,000 polling sites.

Voting was proceeding peacefully in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. Much of the country was hit by snow storms yesterday. Today was sunny in Kyiv without snowfall but cold with plenty of ice.

That, said Oleksandr Vanurykhin, the head of one polling station in a school on a steep hill, was preventing many voters from coming: "In comparison with the first round about half the people have come to vote. We understand that this is because of the bad weather. There is ice and lots of people are afraid of falling over and being injured. There are a lot less elderly people than last time."

Serhiy Kivalov, chairman of Ukraine's Central Election Commission, said a policeman was murdered at a voting site in the village of Molodetska in the central Cherkassy region.

Kivalov said voting in Molodetska was temporarily halted. No further details were immediately available.

Kivalov said voting was also stopped in the western Volyn region after unknown persons stole a polling site's safe containing voting lists.The opposition and its sympathizers, like the Pora group, have warned that they will stage massive demonstrations in the capital and elsewhere beginning tonight if they believe the results of the election are falsified by the government.

Yanukovych and the person who nominated him as the regime's candidate, incumbent President Leonid Kuchma, have accused the opposition of preparing to use terrorism and violence to bring about a revolution.

In a television address last night where Kuchma abandoned any neutrality, he praised Yanukovych, and wore a tie in Yanukovych's blue and white campaign colors.

Kuchma warned the opposition was calling for violence and would provoke bloodshed: "II assure you that the government will do everything to ensure that the second round of the election will happen peacefully. The government will not allow the democratic process of the election to be transformed into nondemocratic violence which is revolution."

He said the opposition might try to use exit polls to prove the government had falsified the vote but that only the results announced by the Central Election Commission (CEC) will be taken into account.

"We all know that revolutions are planned by dreamers, are accomplished by fanatics, and the resulting situation is exploited by dishonorable people. There will be no revolution."

Troops, armored cars, and barbed wire encircled the CEC this morning.

Yushchenko is pro-Western and has a track record of democratic reforms and fighting corruption when he was prime minister from 2000 to 2001. He says cooperation with Russia is important but advocates European Union and NATO membership.

Yanukovych is pro-Russian and sees Ukraine's future in a Moscow-led Single Economic Zone comprised of Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus. He has courted Ukraine's millions of ethnic Russians, promising dual nationality and that Russian would become a second state language.

For analysis of the election (in English), see: "Ukraine's Compromised Choice" and "Voters Brace For Presidential Runoff Amid Allegations Of Dirty Tricks"

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