- The Washington Times - Monday, October 4, 2004

KIEV — Campaigning has become so bitter ahead of Oct. 31 presidential elections that senior officials, from the outgoing president to the speaker of parliament, are raising fears for Ukraine’s future.

“It seems to me the closer we get to October 31, the more we have the theater of the absurd,” President Leonid Kuchma told journalists last week, adding that “everyone knows how conflicts end.”

“I say to the principal participants in the race, calm down, boys. Think about tomorrow,” said Mr. Kuchma, who is stepping down after 10 years in office.

Parliament Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn went so far as to suggest the charges and counter-charges — including the suspected poisoning of one candidate and an egg-throwing incident at another — was part of a plot to undermine the balloting.

“The mood of uncertainty and hopelessness is being spread among people in the hope they will accept the disruption of the election indifferently or neutrally,” he said.

The top contenders in the race are Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko.

Mr. Yushchenko traveled to Vienna, Austria, on Thursday for additional treatment at the Rudolfinerhaus hospital, where he was found last month to be suffering from chemical substances not normally found in food products. Mr. Yushchenko’s camp said shortly thereafter they believed the candidate had been poisoned, possibly with ricin.

A special parliamentary commission was named to look into the matter and its chairman, Volodymyr Sivkovych, asked to be given police protection “immediately” because of unspecified information the committee had received. Mr. Sivkovych also complained that unnamed forces were pressuring committee members.

The commission confirmed Mr. Yushchenko and a political ally had met with the head of Ukraine’s security services and a deputy shortly before he took ill. Mr. Yushchenko has accused “the government” of trying to kill him.

But the Reuters news agency last week quoted a hospital official as saying “information disseminated about an alleged poisoning is absolutely unfounded in medical terms.” Doctors now say Mr. Yushchenko may or may not have been poisoned.

More tests will be run to determine the cause of the sickness, and the opposition leader is expected to return to Kiev this week.

Mr. Yanukovych has adopted a more strident tone since a teenager threw an egg at him at a rally in western Ukraine, where Mr. Yushchenko enjoys wide support.

The prime minister collapsed within seconds of being hit and was rushed to the hospital, where he was pronounced in good condition. He was hospitalized for several days.

“I feel sorry for those young people who did this to me, but I don’t have any questions for them. Instead, I have questions to those leaders who surround Yushchenko, who pushed young people to do this,” the prime minister said afterward.

The prime minister’s camp has also mounted campaign ads suggesting Mr. Yushchenko is linked to extreme nationalism.

One ad claims that if Mr. Yushchenko is elected, the Russian language will be abolished in Ukraine. Another has suggested that if Mr. Yushchenko becomes president, Ukraine will become a colony of the United States.

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