- The Washington Times - Monday, December 27, 2004

KIEV — Viktor Yushchenko sailed to a commanding victory yesterday as officials tallied votes cast in Sunday’s repeat presidential election in Ukraine and the losing opponent charged fraud and vowed to appeal the results in the Supreme Court.

With 99.89 percent of the votes counted, Mr. Yushchenko, the pro-Western opposition leader, won 52.01 percent to 44.18 percent for the Moscow-backed candidate, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.

Exit polls late Sunday had prompted Mr. Yushchenko to claim victory. Mr. Yanukovych has yet to concede defeat. There were no reports of violence as the two camps reacted to the results.

The opposition leader appeared before supporters gathered on Independence Square at about 2 a.m. yesterday and congratulated them in a shared victory.

“Now, today, the Ukrainian people have won. I congratulate you,” he said. “We have been independent for 14 years, but we were not free. Now we can say this is a thing of the past. Now we are facing an independent and free Ukraine.”

In a reversal from the Nov. 21 runoff election, Western observers praised Sunday’s vote, calling it free and fair. Observers from Russia and other former Soviet republics, on the other hand, said it was fraught with violations.

Mr. Yanukovych, whose victory was nullified after the Supreme Court ruled earlier this month that the Nov. 21 vote was fraudulent, said he would not accept the election results.

“I will never recognize such a loss because the constitution and the rights of people were violated,” he told reporters.

He dismissed high marks given by Western observers, saying, “Only a blind person can’t see how many violations there were.”

In Washington, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell praised Sunday’s vote, calling it a “historic moment for democracy” and encouraged voters to refrain from violence in the ensuing days.

“We congratulate Ukrainians for the courage they displayed in standing up for their democratic rights,” he said. “We call on Ukrainians now to set their divisions behind them and to refrain from violence, separatism or provocations.”

Mr. Powell was careful not to acknowledge a winner until the official results are announced later this week.

The election also received high marks from other international observers, who said Ukraine had made improvements in holding a fair race.

“It is the collective judgment of the organizations represented here that the Ukrainian elections have moved substantially closer to meeting OSCE and other international standards,” said Bruce George, head of a delegation from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and other election watchdogs.

Mr. Yanukovych earlier said millions of elderly and handicapped people could not vote in yesterday’s election because of changes that Parliament made to the election law earlier this month to prevent fraud.

The Constitutional Court on Saturday reversed some changes to the law, but supported its constitutionality.

Outraged by election fraud, hundreds of thousands of protesters staged protests in the capital for 17 days after the Nov. 21 vote.

Under the presidential election law, candidates have two days to file complaints, which then will be reviewed for two days. If necessary, the complaint is then reviewed by the courts. It is unlikely that an official winner in the election will be named before the end of the year.

Western leaders immediately began reaching out to Mr. Yushchenko, who has vowed to integrate Ukraine into Europe and international organizations.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who backed Mr. Yanukovych, remained silent about the election results. One radio station in Moscow said 50 percent of those polled thought it was time for Mr. Putin to congratulate Mr. Yushchenko.

Also yesterday, in separate news, Ukrainian transport minister and one of the country’s most prominent businessmen Heorhiy Kyrpa was found dead at his home outside Kiev, a government source was quoted by wire reports as saying.

“An investigating group from the police are working at the scene. He was found dead with gunshot wounds at his dacha just at the outskirts of Kiev,” the source said.

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