- The Washington Times - Monday, November 22, 2004

KIEV — Up to a quarter-million people braved the bitter cold in Kiev’s Independence Square yesterday to charge the government with stealing Sunday’s presidential elections by rigging the vote.

International observers partly concurred, saying there were extensive indications of vote fraud.

Election authorities said the government-backed presidential candidate, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, maintained a comfortable margin with nearly all votes counted, despite exit polls showing opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko winning.

Draped in various shades of orange, the opposition’s color, demonstrators shouted “Yushchenko, Yushchenko,” as they flooded Independence Square after the close of the business day.

“We will not leave this place until we win,” Mr. Yushchenko said. “The people’s will cannot be broken. People’s votes cannot be stolen.”

The opposition is demanding that election results in questionable regions be voided.

The city councils in Kiev and three other cities refused to recognize the election results, and the votes were widely condemned by international observers.

“It is now apparent that a concerted and forceful program of election day fraud and abuse was enacted with either the leadership or cooperation of governmental authorities,” Sen. Richard G. Lugar, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, said. Mr. Lugar, Indiana Republican, was President Bush’s envoy here.

The second round of Ukraine’s highly contested race on Sunday pitted opposition leader Mr. Yushchenko against Mr. Kuchma’s designated successor, Mr. Yanukovych.

Neither man won the 50 percent required in the first round of the election, which was held Oct. 31.

Soon after the polling places closed Sunday, three independent exit polls showed Mr. Yushchenko with a comfortable lead over his opponent. But Ukraine’s Central Election Commission (CEC) said yesterday that with 99.38 of the votes counted, Mr. Yanukovych led with 49.42 percent versus 46.7 percent for Mr. Yushchenko.

Ukraine’s parliament is to hold an emergency session today to discuss the situation.

Mr. Yushchenko said widespread falsification had occurred primarily in three eastern Ukrainian regions, including Donetsk, where voter turnout was reported at more than 96 percent in some areas. Some international observers said rigging in some government strongholds could reach as high as 20 percent.

Mr. Yushchenko said that by his camp’s assessment, about 3 million ballots were falsified, 1 million in Donetsk alone. He said party and independent polling-place watchers reported 11,110 violations to the CEC in the second round, compared with 2,058 in the first.

Observers working with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said there were extensive indications of fraud, including people voting multiple times and voters being forced to turn over absentee ballots to state employers.

In Washington, the State Department called on Ukraine to investigate fraud charges or risk a changed relationship with the United States.

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