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Ukraine: Vitrenko Comments On Grenade Attack

As voters in Ukraine prepare to vote in a presidential election later this month, tensions are rising. For months, opposition candidates have been accusing President Leonid Kuchma of using improper campaign tactics. Tensions increased further in recent days after a violent attack against a leading opposition candidate sparked a flurry of charges and counter charges. RFE/RL's Lily Hyde reports from Kyiv.

Kyiv, 6 October 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Ukrainian opposition presidential candidate Natalia Vitrenko made her first major press appearance yesterday since being injured in a grenade attack at a weekend campaign rally.

Vitrenko, second only to incumbent Leonid Kuchma in many polls, was injured in the legs and stomach. Some 30 other people were hurt.

Police are seeking a member of rival opposition candidate Oleksandr Moroz's electoral team, who was present at the rally. But some Ukrainian media reports have speculated the attack may have been intended to discredit Moroz.

At her press conference today in Kyiv, Vitrenko said most of her opponents want to see her removed from the political scene.

"I don't want to accuse anyone and I don't want to protect anyone. But I think practically every one of the other candidates dreamed of removing me from the political stage. And I know practically every one of them gave instructions to members of his party, and aggravated a hysteria of hatred against Natalia Vitrenko."

Moroz and Vitrenko are believed to have the best chances of winning enough votes to reach a runoff against Kuchma. A runoff will be required if no candidate wins more than half the votes in the first round, scheduled for October 31.

Moroz's aides have dismissed the accusations against him. They argue that Kuchma sees Moroz as his most dangerous rival and that an attack against Vitrenko would win her an increased sympathy vote and help split the leftist vote.

Several opposition candidates, including Parliament Speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko, have said they believe that Kuchma's campaign staff was behind the attack.

Kuchma has publicly condemned the attack on Vitrenko as an attempt to disrupt political stability on the eve of the election.

Vitrenko yesterday suggested that the government would not carry out a fair investigation and that security forces loyal to Kuchma had been instructed not to protect opposition candidates.

"We don't believe the investigation will be objective. We don't believe in the executive power, who are telling lies at every step. I think the security forces have simply been told to work for Kuchma and to protect Kuchma, and the rest of us can finish each other off, its our business."

Reporters from the TV channel Inter and from four newspapers were all barred from Vitrenko's press conference. Vitrenko said they had made 'immoral' speculations that the attack would be advantageous to her, implying that her own party may have been involved in it.

Political analysts and politicians have said that the attack may indeed boost Vitrenko's ratings as people may now take her more seriously. A former ally of Moroz, Vitrenko proposes a return to a planned economy, severing ties with the IMF and halting economic reform.