U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called Ukraine's weekend parliamentary elections "a step backward" and urged the country's leadership to curb what she called "the backward slide."
With more than 90 percent of the ballots counted, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych's ruling Party of Regions appeared likely to win more than 30 percent of the vote and maintain its parliamentary majority, handing a defeat to allies of jailed ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
Tymoshenko is serving a seven-year prison sentence with more charges pending in what she and international critics says are politically motivated trials, while some of her closest political allies are also being persecuted.
The head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) short-term monitoring mission for the vote said that
"democratic progress appears to have reversed in Ukraine."
Clinton said the United States "share[d] the view of the OSCE monitors that Sunday's election constituted a step backward for Ukrainian democracy."
"The people of Ukraine deserve so much better," Clinton said. "They deserve to live in a country with strong democratic institutions that respect the rule of law, and these elections did not advance those goals."
Tymoshenko's Fatherland alliance was in second place with nearly 25 percent with votes still being counted.
Tymoshenko lost a closely fought presidential runoff to Yanukovych in February 2010. She has been imprisoned since October 2011 in a case that has prompted the European Union to freeze a partnership deal with Kyiv.
Clinton mentioned Tymoshenko in her comments on Ukraine's elections.
"We reiterate our deep concern that the politically motivated convictions of opposition leaders, including former Prime Minister Tymoshenko, prevented them from running and standing in these elections," Clinton said, "and we call upon the government of Ukraine to put an immediate end to the selective prosecution and detention of political opponents."
The Russian Foreign Ministry offered a different view of the elections, praising the campaign and vote as being "in general honest and transparent."
Russia sent election observers to the October 28 poll, and the Russian Foreign Ministry claimed "no significant violations that could affect the election returns were registered during the voting process."
The Udar party led by world champion heavyweight boxer Vitali Klitschko appeared to have moved into third place with 13.7 percent, passing the Communist Party, which had 13.49 percent, with some votes still uncounted.
Based on reporting by AFP, AP, Interfax, and RFE/RL's Balkan Service