Wed, Nov 24, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Thousands flood streets of Kiev to protest election

ALLEGED FRAUD Ukraine's major cities were brought to a standstill as the controversy over the presidential elections spilled into the streets in a tense standoff


With tens of thousands of demonstrators flooding the center of the Ukrainian capital to protest alleged fraud in the presidential elections, the opposition called an emergency parliament session yesterday to demand the annulment of official results already rejected by several municipal governments.

The Ukrainian Election Commission's announcement that Kremlin-backed Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych was ahead of Western-leaning candidate Viktor Yushchenko with nearly all the votes counted galvanized dismay and anger Monday among many of the former Soviet republic's 48 million people.

During Tuesday's emergency session of the national parliament, Yushchenko's supporters aim to vote no-confidence in the election commission and annul the official results.

If the parliament doesn't take action to solve the crisis, "we will have no choice but to block roads, airports, seize city halls," said Yuliya Tymoshenko, a Yushchenko ally.

Following a rally that attracted tens of thousands of Yushchenko supporters to the capital's main Independence Square, demonstrators jammed the city's main avenue for several blocks, using heavy iron benches to set up barricades. Fears were high that frustrations could boil over into violence, and busloads of special forces have been brought into the city in recent days and deployed near the Central Election Commission and other government buildings.

As protesters milled outside the capital's city council building Monday, its members inside passed a resolution calling on the national parliament not to recognize the election results.

The governments of four other sizable cities -- Lviv, Ternopil, Vinnytsia and Ivano-Frankivsk -- announced Monday they had recognized Yushchenko as president, and some 20,000 protesters rallied in Lviv.

Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a statement to Yanukovych late Monday to congratulate him, but a group of international observers described Sunday's balloting as severely flawed.

Senator Richard Lugar, chairman of the US Senate's Foreign Relations Committee, voiced the strongest objection, saying in Kiev that there had been "a concerted and forceful program of election-day fraud and abuse." He called on outgoing President Leonid Kuchma "to review all of this and take decisive action in the best interests of the country."

The EU also called for an urgent review of the results and said Ukrainian ambassadors would be summoned to capitals of member states and briefed about its "serious concerns."

Yushchenko foes warned that the reformist's supporters gathering in the square could try to foment civil unrest with the aim of seizing power.

Yanukovych, in televised comments, called for national unity and said, "I categorically will not accept the actions of certain politicians who are now calling people to the barricades. This small group of radicals has taken upon itself the goal of splitting Ukraine."

Protesters have set up tents on Independence Square and along Kiev's main avenue.

Although official results, with more than 99 percent of precincts counted, showed Yanukovych leading with 49.42 percent to his challenger's 46.70 percent, several exit polls had found Yushchenko the winner, one by a margin of 11 percentage points.

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