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Ukraine's Presidential Rivals In TV Debate

20 December 2004 -- Ukraine's two rivals for the presidency clashed in a much-anticipated televised debate today.

Opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko accused his rival, Russian-backed Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, of trying to "steal" the 21 November runoff election, which the Supreme Court annulled after ruling it was fraudulent.

Yushchenko also accused Russia of interfering in Ukraine's politics. He said foreign intervention -- either from Russia or from the West -- is "humiliating to independent Ukraine."

Yanukovych said a win by Yushchenko in a runoff on 26 December would split the country. He said he is "struggling" not for power, but to avoid "bloodshed."

The two candidates were allowed to ask each other direct questions after their opening statements during the 100-minute debate.

Yushchenko's questions focused on economic matters, pensions, the budget, and salaries. Yanukovych emphasized improvements to Ukraine's economy while he was prime minister.