ukraine in political crisis

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    Ukraine in political crisis
    From correspondents in Kiev, Ukraine
    November 24, 2004

    UKRAINE'S political crisis threatened to spiral out of control today as thousands of opposition supporters surrounded the presidency hours after their leader Viktor Yushchenko declared himself president.

    Hundreds of security forces cordoned off the presidency in the capital Kiev as demonstrators shouted slogans and called on police to join the protest.

    After an emergency parliament session, Mr Yushchenko called on Ukrainian civil servants and police to cross over and join the mass demonstrations that have gripped the nation since the weekend presidential vote.

    "Ukraine needs you, come over to our side," he urged, as protesters camped defiantly outside the legislature, many waving the signature opposition colour of orange, before heeding a call to march on the presidency.

    "Form a column and come with us to the presidency. We will surround it and we will wait for them to surrender or we will demand that they do so. We will not use force," said Yulia Timoshenko, another opposition leader.

    Earlier, Russian President Vladimir Putin called for a peaceful resolution to the crisis, but attacked European concerns over the vote as "inadmissible".

    "We can't recognise or protest because no official results have yet been announced," he said during a visit to Lisbon. "I can advise others to follow our example."

    Mr Putin, who openly supported Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich in the election campaign, contacted the pro-Russian leader yesterday to congratulate him on his "open and honest" defeat of Mr Yushchenko.

    Mr Yushchenko, the pro-Western former premier, warned in parliament that the country "is on the verge of civil conflict", as the western region of Lviv joined Kiev and five other opposition bastions in rejecting official results giving victory to Mr Yanukovich.

    Ukrainian parliament speaker Vladimir Litvin refused to recognise the oath of office, and the parliamentary session was attended by too few legislators to make a resolution binding.

    "There has been no inauguration," he said. "One must not provoke people."

    In a further sign of the deep split in the country, the regional government of Donetsk, an eastern pro-Moscow fiefdom, denounced the protests in Kiev and the Ukrainian-speaking western districts.

    The council of Donetsk, from where the premier hails, called on Mr Yushchenko and his supporters "to accept defeat with dignity and to accept the complete and irrevocable victory of Yanukovich".

    Meanwhile 150 Ukrainian diplomats, including the foreign ministry's official spokesman issued a statement recognising Mr Yushchenko as president.

    Mr Yushchenko had called on the international community to recognize him as the real winner of an election seen by some observers as the most important in eastern Europe since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

    A victory for him would pull the strategically important eastern European nation of 48 million people out of Russia's age-old embrace and eventually put it into the fold of the European Union and maybe even NATO, shifting liberal Europe's centre of gravity closer to Russia's borders.

    He called on "parliaments and people of the world" to recognise him as the real winner of the vote, which Western governments and observers decried as massively flawed.

    "In the 20th century, we are facing a threat to the will of a people of one of Europe's largest countries," he said in a statement.

    The dispute has split this former Soviet republic down the middle, with the Ukrainian-speaking west mainly behind Yushchenko and the Russian-speaking east backing Yanukovich.

    Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, whose nation holds the rotating EU presidency, told Ukraine's outgoing President Leonid Kuchma that the EU had "doubts" about the result of the vote.

    Mr Kuchma's office retorted that "the authorities of Ukraine cannot intervene in the electoral process, and cannot influence the election results".

    British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said it was "very difficult to argue that this was a free and fair election".

    Ukraine now threatens to add to the strains already evident between Russia and the EU heading into a bilateral summit on Thursday in The Hague between Mr Putin and Mr Balkenende, the EU's current chairman.

    In Washington, a US State Department spokesman said the vote was marred by "very disturbing patterns of abuse" and threatened Kiev with sanctions, while officials warned US citizens in Ukraine of potential violence.

    The central electoral commission has until December 6 to announce the final vote count and declare an official winner.

    Official ballot counts so far show 54-year-old Mr Yanukovich won 49.39 per cent of the vote compared with 50-year-old Mr Yushchenko's 46.71 per cent, with 99.48 per cent of polling stations reporting.

    However, the opposition claim voting was rigged and has demanded a recount in several Yanukovich stronghold regions where it claimed widespread fraud.

    International observer teams have supported allegations of malpractice and fraud, among them the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe which said the vote did not meet democratic standards.

    Agence France-Presse,4057,11483242%255E1702,00.html


    This could get ugly.

    At least the people can protest these days without being sho on the spot by the KGB.
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