- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 23, 2004

KIEV — Ukraine’s political crisis deepened yesterday as opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko symbolically took the presidential oath before more than 100,000 supporters who demanded that the government annul official results of Sunday’s fraud-tainted election and name Mr. Yushchenko the winner.

“I’m not afraid of anyone,” Mr. Yushchenko told a sea of demonstrators who braved the bitter cold to flood the streets of Kiev for the second straight day.

“I’m doing the right thing for Ukraine,” said Mr. Yushchenko, who then led his supporters on a march toward the presidential administration building, where protesters vowed they would take turns in maintaining a peaceful vigil.

They have vowed to stay until officials nullify Sunday’s runoff election results that showed Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych defeating the Western-leaning Mr. Yushchenko in balloting that protesters and much of the world says was rigged.

“The United States is deeply concerned by extensive and credible indications of fraud committed in the Ukrainian presidential election,” President Bush’s spokeswoman, Claire Buchan, said in Washington.

Last night, outgoing President Leonid Kuchma called for negotiations among all sides, and a top opposition leader accepted the proposal, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported.

“We now have decided to give the possibility to Kuchma to form proposals for talks,” Yuliya Tymoshenko said, according to Interfax. It was not immediately clear when the talks might take place.

Ukraine’s military and security services had indicated they would not take action against peaceful demonstrators.

Ukraine’s turmoil comes one year after the so-called “Rose Revolution” in neighboring Georgia, in which pressure from mass demonstrations rising from a rigged election forced President Eduard Shevardnadze and his government to resign.

“I wish you faith, peace, fairness and victory,” Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili said in a message to Ukrainians to commemorate the one-year anniversary of his nation’s revolution.

Ukraine’s Central Election Commission said Monday that with 99.38 percent of the votes counted, Mr. Yanukovych, 54, led with 49.42 percent versus 46.7 percent for Mr. Yushchenko, 50.

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

Protesters from other cities began to arrive in the Ukrainian capital yesterday, while pro-Yushchenko rallies took place in many central and western regions, where the opposition leader enjoys wide support.

A half-dozen large cities already have declared they recognize Mr. Yushchenko as president, and Kiev’s city council has called on the national parliament to declare the vote invalid.

In Washington, four diplomats at the Ukrainian Embassy signed a declaration accusing their government of subverting the will of the people by favoring Mr. Yanukovych.

“We cannot quietly look away as Ukraine’s future is buried along with the future of our children,” read the statement, signed by Counselor Oleksandr V. Shcherba, Second Secretary Yuriy B. Parkhomenko, Counselor Oleksandr V. Potiekhin and Counselor Volodymyr M. Chumak.

One military unit in western Ukraine pledged its allegiance to the opposition leader, the nation’s first to do so.

Ukrainian press, however, reported that troops from Russia were stationed on the border, ready to don Ukrainian uniforms to replace those who refused to take action against protesters.

Russia also lashed out at the United States for what it called “unprecedented interference” in domestic affairs after the United States took Moscow to task for recognizing Mr. Yanukovych’s victory.

Ukrainian parliament speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn told reporters if the situation became uncontrollable, a state of emergency could be introduced.

With the opposition boycotting an emergency session of parliament yesterday, lawmakers failed to reach a quorum to take any action.

Mr. Lytvyn told the 192 lawmakers gathered in the chambers that “parliament can and should make a decision. Tomorrow the people can make a decision for us. In either case, we will be forced to make a decision.”

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