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Ukraine: Amid Protests, Both Candidates Claim Runoff Victory

Both candidates in yesterday's Ukrainian presidential election claimed to have won. With nearly all of the vote counted, the Central Election Commission (TsVK) said the government candidate, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, edged ahead of opposition candidate, Viktor Yushchenko, by 3 percentage points and was in an unassailable lead. Yushchenko accused the government of fraud, and tens of thousands of his supporters have gathered in the capital, Kyiv, as the streets are filled with security forces' vehicles.

Kyiv, 22 November 2004 -- The atmosphere was tense today in Kyiv as tens of thousands of opposition protesters crammed into the city's Independence Square to demonstrate against what they call the government's falsification of yesterday's presidential election.

The government candidate, Prime Minister Yanukovych, was claiming victory by a narrow margin over opposition Our Ukraine coalition leader Yushchenko. Election Committee Chairman Serhiy Kivalov said final results would be available later today, but that the figures showed Yanukovych had won.
"We together won. The Ukraine people won. That's a fact. I'm not going to talk about various predictions. We are talking on the basis of the true will of the people. We won and that's it." -- Opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko

"Viktor Yanukovych gained 49.42 percent of the vote; Viktor Yushchenko gained 46.7 percent," he said. "Therefore we have the following result: Yanukovych, Viktor Yanukovych, gained 14,942,478 votes; Viktor Yushchenko 14,120,791 votes."

Yushchenko told supporters today that the government had committed flagrant fraud and that he and other opposition leaders would never accept a Yanukovych victory: "We together won. The Ukraine people won. That's a fact. I'm not going to talk about various predictions. We are talking on the basis of the true will of the people. We won and that's it."

The opposition alleges massive stuffing of ballots. They say many Yanukovych supporters were issued special absentee voting documents so that the same person voted many times at different polling stations.

Yushchenko said the opposition was demanding the cancellation of results in places where they believed there was strong evidence of falsification: "Today we are making demands. We demand the invalidation of results in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, particularly in those areas where representatives of opposition parties were not allowed to take their places on local election committees."

There were hundreds of reports yesterday of breaches of election law, with the opposition making most of the complaints.

Not Meeting International Standards

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) today confirmed the vote fell short of international standards. Bruce George, the chief of the OSCE observer mission, said: "The second round of the Ukrainian presidential election does not meet a considerable number of OSCE conditions and Council of Europe and other European standards for democratic elections."

The OSCE criticized the Ukrainian government for requiring some state employees to acquire and hand over to superiors absentee ballots. George said ballots were collected at the workplace "on an organized basis," leaving open the possibility of fraud.

Yanukovych and his mentor, incumbent President Leonid Kuchma, accused the opposition of readying a revolution to overthrow the government.

On the eve of the election Kuchma went on television to warn that the government would do everything to prevent a revolution: "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."

The opposition is calling on parliament to act over the alleged falsification and to condemn the CEC.

"We are demanding an extraordinary session of parliament be held to examine the questions revealed by the election of November 21," Yushchenko said. "We declare distrust of the Central Election Commission and we say that yesterday the commission became a passive, and sometimes active, participant in manipulation and falsification of the results."

Yushchenko has called on supporters from other regions to come to Kyiv. Young people from the Pora (It's Time) group were setting up tents in the square for a prolonged stay. With temperatures below freezing, the weather was making it uncomfortable for opposition supporters to stay outside for a long time.

Fears of clashes mounted as there were reports that thousands of Yanukovych supporters, escorted by police, were arriving from eastern Ukraine.

Yushchenko is viewed as pro-Western. He says cooperation with Russia is important but advocates European Union and NATO membership.

Yanukovych 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.

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