The end of weeks of political turmoil in Ukraine was in sight yesterday after the pro-Europe Viktor Yushchenko was officially declared the winner of a re-run presidential vote, paving the way for the inauguration of the "orange revolution" hero.
"In the repeat election of Dec. 26, Viktor Yushchenko has been elected president of Ukraine," central election commission chief Yaroslav Davydovich announced late on Monday to applause and cheers at the end of a seven-hour meeting in Kiev.
"Yu-shchen-ko! Yu-shchen-ko!" chanted the winner's supporters, packed into the commission's meeting room as they unfurled an orange flag, symbol of their standard-bearer's campaign.
Monday's announcement paved the way for parliament to set a date for Yushchenko's inauguration, despite vows by his defeated rival, pro-Russian former prime minister Viktor Yanukovych, to keep up a legal challenge over the election.
"This is the happiest day of my life," Petro Poroshenko, a deputy in Yushchenko's Our Ukraine bloc and one of the four leading candidates for the post of prime minister, said after the vote.
"Ukraine has proved that it is a European country ... A new country and a new government were born today," he said.
Nester Shuffrich, a Yanukovych representative at the commission, promised to appeal the results in the Supreme Court.
"Unfortunately the election results have been determined with violations of the election law and the Constitution," he said. "We will discuss these violations tomorrow or the next day at the Supreme Court."
Yanukovych has vowed to exhaust all avenues for appeal in what many observers say is an attempt to boost his image as a Yushchenko adversary ahead of next year's crucial parliamentary elections.
According to final results, Yushchenko won the election with 51.99 percent of all votes cast compared with 44.20 percent received by Yanukovych, a difference of 2.27 million votes on turnout of 77.19 percent.
Yushchenko's inauguration will put an end to weeks of political turmoil which flared following the now-discredited November election to choose a successor to the 10-year hardline regime of outgoing leader Leonid Kuchma in the strategic former Soviet republic.
The Dec. 26 rematch was set after the Supreme Court threw out results of a Nov. 21 runoff, which election officials said was won by Yanukovych because of massive fraud.
The ruling sparked massive "orange revolution" protests as hundreds of thousands of people descended on Kiev to support their standard-bearer.