- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Warning to Ukraine

The United States is trying to pre-empt fraud in the October presidential election in Ukraine by warning the former Soviet republic five months early against voter intimidation or other irregularities.

“If the election is not free, if there are complications, then relations between Ukraine and the United States could deteriorate,” U.S. Ambassador John Herbst told students in the Ukrainian capital Kiev yesterday.

Viktor Yushchenko, the pro-Western opposition leader, is the current front-runner in the Oct. 31 election against Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, an ally of President Leonid Kuchma.

The United States and other Western governments have criticized Mr. Kuchma for repressive measures against political opponents. He is stepping down after 10 years in power.

The Bush administration two years ago accused Mr. Kuchma of personally approving the sale of an early warning radar system to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Recently the State Department complained about problems in an April 18 mayoral election in Mukacheve, a city of 120,000 near the border with Slovakia and Hungary.

“By all accounts, there was manifestly fraudulent manipulation of the voting results,” the department said.

“We have seen a very discouraging pattern of irregularities and fraud in recent local and parliamentary elections in Ukraine. We hope that such problems will not characterize the presidential election later this year.”

Ukrainian election officials declared Ernest Nusser of the Ukrainian Social Democratic Party (United) the winner in the mayor’s election, but the opposition Our Ukraine party claimed its candidate, Viktor Baloha, was the victor. Mr. Kuchma promised an investigation.

“In my view, the struggle for power is dimming the common sense of politicians,” Mr. Kuchma said at a press conference a week after the election.

Western observers cited widespread fraud and reports of violence against members of the Ukrainian Parliament who monitored the vote.

The Council of Europe called the contest in Mukacheve an “unfortunate dress rehearsal for the upcoming presidential election.”

The council complained about “two main interest groups waging a bitter fight for power and, for the most part, forgetting about local issues.”

U.S. opposes coup

Charles Shapiro, the U.S. ambassador to Venezuela, denounced the apparent attempt to overthrow leftist President Hugo Chavez and insisted the United States opposes any illegal attempt to remove him.

Mr. Chavez last week linked the Bush administration to a group of 120 suspected militiamen from neighboring Colombia. He accused them of plotting to seize Venezuela’s main military base as a prelude to a coup.

Mr. Shapiro told reporters in Caracas on Monday that the United States had no part in the plot.

“The United States is not an empire, and we are not threatening either Venezuela or its government or the people of Venezuela,” he said.

Mr. Shapiro said he is working with other foreign ambassadors in Venezuela to help in the investigation into the origins of the suspected coup.

“We reject any attempt to change this government or any that has been elected democratically by nonconstitutional means,” Mr. Shapiro said.

He said the presence of the Colombians in Venezuela is “very worrying.”

“It is obvious that they weren’t here just to do some camping,” he said. “Someone organized this group. Someone paid them. The ambassadors are working to collect information.”

The Bush administration has been critical of Mr. Chavez’s leftward drift, especially over his close alliance with Cuba’s Fidel Castro.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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