Sat, Dec 04, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Ukrainian election battle continues as court mulls revote

AP , KIEV, UKRAINE

The Ukrainian Supreme Court retired yesterday to rule on an opposition-demanded revote of presidential elections while convoys of orange-clad opposition reinforcements arrived in the capital to witness what they hoped would be a dramatic judicial ruling against the Moscow-backed government.

Ukraine's parliament, meanwhile, voted 257-0 to pull the country's 1,600 peacekeepers out of Iraq. It was another indication that President Leonid Kuchma, who ordered the troop deployment, was losing his grip on parliament amid opposition allegations that he had discredited himself by rushing to Moscow on Thursday for consultations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"Kuchma's meeting with Putin was humiliating for our society," said Mykhailo Melnichuk, a Socialist Party lawmaker.

Parliament voted against recalling troops earlier this year, and this week, the body passed a no-confidence measure telling Kuchma to disband the government of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.

Yesterday's withdrawal vote was nonbinding and lawmaker Andriy Shkil said its true aim was to increase pressure on the government.

Putin, who had thrown his support behind Yanukovych in the presidential campaign, weighed in Thursday against the opposition's demands for a rerun of the Nov. 21 runoff.

Supporters of opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko were placing their hopes in the Supreme Court, expecting it to back his appeal to cancel the official results of the vote that declared Yanukovych the winner.

A key Yanukovych aide, Stepan Havrysh, said Friday that "we will accept any decision from this court." But he criticized the proceedings, saying "now the Yushchenko team has created the illusion that if they didn't manage to receive victory during the election, they can win in court."

Before the judges recessed, crowds of protesters gathered around television screens on Independence Square and in a tent camp the opposition has set up to watch the final arguments.

"The court must show that it respects the people -- that's why we are here, so the court can see us," said Volodymyr Shevchuk, 50, who arrived yesterday with 200 people from the western Ukrainian town of Sokal.

Yushchenko has said his victory was stolen through fraud, pointing at widespread electoral violations in the prime minister's strongholds in the east and south, near Russia.

He has insisted on a revote of the runoff and firmly rejected a proposal by Kuchma to hold an entirely new election. Many see the move as an attempt by Kuchma's supporters to put forth a new candidate who would be more popular than Yanukovych.

``If a revote date isn't set quickly after the Supreme Court's ruling, we will take adequate steps against the government,'' Yushchenko told crowds of supporters Thursday. He peppered his speech with Russian in an apparent bid to lessen the fears of Ukraine's Russian-speaking east, which overwhelmingly backed his rival in the election.

Mykola Poludenyi, a Yushchenko lawyer, said that ``if the court decides that there should be a revote, we will ask that the revote be scheduled for the first Sunday after the court's decision.''

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