Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Leaders of Ukraine’s largest pro-Western opposition party — with hundreds of its candidates banned from running for parliament — demanded yesterday that the ban be reversed and accused the country’s pro-Russian prime minister of trying to provoke a political crisis.

Supporters of the bloc led by former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko have appealed to a Kiev court to reverse the election commission’s decision Friday night for the Sept. 30 vote.

An estimated 1,000 Tymoshenko supporters rallied in the center of the capital for a second straight day yesterday to protest the ruling.

“They are trying to provoke us to commit illegal actions because of the ruling, when they can tie us up in court,” said Hryhoriy Nemyria, foreign-policy adviser to Mrs. Tymoshenko.

“It’s really an attempt to disrupt the entire political process,” he said in a telephone interview from Kiev.

The snap parliamentary vote is seen as critical to ending a long political stalemate between pro-Western forces led by Mrs. Tymoshenko and President Viktor Yushchenko and the pro-Moscow Party of Regions, led by Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.

Mr. Nemyria said his party had been unable to campaign because of the disqualifications, which he blamed squarely on Mr. Yanukovych.

“There is only a very limited time to campaign, and the other parties are already out among the voters,” Mr. Nemyria said.

The election commission rejected about 450 candidates supporting Mrs. Tymoshenko, reportedly for failing to provide complete addresses on their applications.

The eight Yanukovych appointees on the commission were either absent or abstained from the ruling, and the applications were rejected because they did not receive a majority of votes from the 15-member commission.

Mr. Nemyria said his party provided exactly the same information as it filed for the 2006 vote, and that the rejections were based on more sinister motives.

Mr. Yanukovych was vacationing in Russia when the electoral commission issued its ruling, but his aides said the mass rejections were a technical issue that would be resolved.

“This conflict should soon be over,” Marina Stavnichuk, deputy head of the prime minister’s office, told reporters in Kiev yesterday. “At issue here are some shortcomings in the commission’s work and technical matters.”

The Ukrainian Embassy in Washington, saying the election commission is independent of the government, declined to comment on the ruling.

Several commissioners defended their action in a joint statement issued Sunday.

“No one will ever manage to force us into making an illegal decision, even if such indecent and unacceptable methods as threats and intimidation are used,” the commissioners said, according to the Interfax-Ukraine news agency.

Mrs. Tymoshenko and Mr. Yushchenko were leading figures in Ukraine’s 2004-05 Orange Revolution, which overturned a fraud-ridden presidential election originally won by Mr. Yanukovych. The pro-Western reformers received strong support from the United States and the European Union.

Feuding and infighting among Ukraine’s Western-oriented parties allowed Mr. Yanukovych to stage a political comeback last year, reclaiming the prime minister’s post last August. But the government has faltered in recent months, with neither side enjoying a clear majority.

Polls suggest that the Sept. 30 vote may not solve the crisis, with Mrs. Tymoshenko and Mr. Yanukovych claiming about a third of the vote and Mr. Yushchenko and other smaller parties sharing the rest.

Mr. Nemyria said Mr. Yanukovych’s party also could be trying to delay the parliamentary vote until later in the fall, moving them closer to the Russian State Duma elections scheduled for December.

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