Thursday, November 25, 2004

KIEV — Ukraine’s top court stepped into the presidential fray yesterday to put the brakes on Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych’s bid for the presidency after a highly contested election.

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski were expected in Kiev today for urgent talks, in an attempt to mediate a solution to the election crisis.

The Supreme Court stopped the Central Election Commission from publishing the results of the vote until the opposition’s legal challenges are reviewed.

Court spokeswoman Liana Shlyaposhnikova said the appeal would be considered on Monday.

“This is only the beginning,” a triumphant opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko told a crowd of 100,000 people gathered in downtown Kiev in praising the court’s decision.

But the government appeared to be taking steps to make the results public before then.

Ukrainian media reported late yesterday that the government newspaper, Uryadovyi Kuryer, was planning to officially publish the election results in direct violation of the Supreme Court order.

“The Supreme Court has no legal basis for annulling the results of the elections,” said Mr. Yanukovych’s campaign manager, Serhei Tihipko.

The election commission said the prime minister received 49.46 percent of the vote and Mr. Yushchenko 46.61 percent.

Russian President Vladimir Putin urged a solution to Ukraine’s election crisis through the courts, not the streets, and warned foreign powers against inciting chaos in the former Soviet republic.

The United States, the European Union and other international organizations have condemned the election, saying it failed to meet international standards.

The Bush administration said on Wednesday it could not accept election results that made Mr. Yanukovych president. It warned that if the government did not act immediately to investigate accusations of fraud, there would be consequences for ties with Washington.

The opposition has charged massive vote rigging in the Nov. 21 election, primarily in the eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, which largely handed Mr. Yanukovych a victory.

Hundreds of thousands of Mr. Yushchenko’s supporters have clogged the downtown streets of the capital, braving sub-zero temperatures for five straight days to denounce the vote as fraudulent.

In The Hague yesterday, Russian and European leaders agreed the dispute over the election should be handled by Ukrainians, as provided in the country’s constitution.

Former Polish president and founder of the Solidarity movement, Lech Walesa, arrived in Kiev on Wednesday at Mr. Yushchenko’s and outgoing President Leonid Kuchma’s invitation.

Mr. Yanukovych can only be inaugurated during a special session of parliament. If the opposition boycotts the session, however, the necessary 226 votes may not be reached.

Opposition leaders have called on protesters to block the entrances to government buildings, hoping to force a shutdown.

Yulia Tymoshenko, one of Mr. Yushchenko’s strongest supporters, said that protesters would be brought in to block all traffic coming into the city beginning tomorrow.

“Busloads of people from Donetsk and Luhansk will be coming,” Mrs. Tymoshenko told a cheering crowd. “We had to feed and clothe them.”

Many universities were empty yesterday as students camped out on Kiev’s central Independence Square and near the presidential administration building, which is being protected by riot police.

Demonstrations have so far been peaceful. Mr. Yushchenko seemed to win a major victory yesterday, when a number of officers from Ukraine’s security services, heirs of the Soviet KGB, appeared before demonstrators, pledging their support and calling on their colleagues to be restrained.

Journalists from the nation’s leading television stations have boycotted their workplaces. Reporters from the pro-government Studio 1+1 announced publicly that they had been “pressured” for many years and would no longer work with their news director, Vyacheslav Pihovshyk.

With cries of “Yushchenko, Yushchenko” resonating not only in the city center but in the subway, protesters have been dancing to live concerts given by some of Ukraine’s hottest rock groups. Strangers are offering each other sandwiches and hot drinks.

“I don’t want my children to be ashamed of me when they ask me if I did something, and I didn’t,” said Volodymyr Petrenko, the owner of a BMW repair shop who volunteered his time to the opposition to maintain security on the plaza. “I’ve been here since Sunday. Now my friends are also here.”

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