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Widespread Vote Fraud Is Alleged In Ukraine

By Peter Finn
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, November 23, 2004; Page A01

KIEV, Ukraine. Nov. 22 -- Tens of thousands of demonstrators converged on Independence Square in the Ukrainian capital Monday after election monitors charged widespread fraud in the presidential runoff election, apparently won by the Moscow-backed prime minister, Viktor Yanukovych.

With 99.33 percent of the vote counted, Yanukovych won 49.42 percent of the vote compared with 46.3 percent for his opponent, Viktor Yushchenko, according to the Central Elections Commission. Exit polls in the balloting initially indicated that Yushchenko would win by a wide margin.

Yushchenko supporters pack Independence Square in Kiev after international monitors detailed instances of fraud in Sunday's presidential election. (Gleb Garanich -- Reuters)

As a crowd of at least 100,000 gathered in Kiev Monday night despite freezing temperatures, Yushchenko called for civil resistance.

"A terrible evil is going on," Yushchenko told his supporters, many of whom waved orange flags or wore orange scarves, signifying their support for his campaign. "From all parts of Ukraine, on carts, cars, planes and trains, tens of thousands of people are on their way here. Our action is only beginning."

A crowd of about 1,000 mostly young supporters remained in the square overnight, some of them in tents. Yushchenko called for a rally at the parliament building on Tuesday morning.

There also were reports that supporters of Yanukovych were traveling to the capital from his strongholds in southern and eastern Ukraine for counter-demonstrations.

Yanukovych stopped short of declaring victory Monday. "I would like to thank everyone who voted for me," he said, noting that he was speaking as a candidate, not as the victor. "We don't have the final results yet. I am sure you all want peace and stability.

"I would like to address opposition supporters and voters," he said. "I respect your choice and your right to vote, and I can assure you that we will find a place for your representatives."

Yushchenko, 50, a former prime minister and central banker, is considered a reformer in this country of 48 million, favoring closer cooperation with NATO and the European Union. Yanukovych, 54, has received strong support from President Vladimir Putin of Russia, whose spokesman issued a statement Monday from Brazil, congratulating Yanukovych on winning the presidency, although the result has not been declared.

Responding to the threat of unrest, the Interior Ministry and the security services issued a joint statement saying they were watching the demonstrations for signs of trouble. "We want to assure everyone that in the event of any threat to constitutional order, and the security of our citizens, we are prepared to put an end quickly and firmly to any lawlessness," their communique said.

International monitors identified a series of election abuses. In Donetsk, for instance, they reported unusually high turnouts in areas that favored Yanukovych -- as high as 96 percent of registered voters, compared with a 65.8 percent turnout three weeks ago for the first round of balloting.

Observers also said state workers were forced to apply for absentee ballots from their managers and that the filled-in ballots were collected at their places of work. Students were coerced to vote by their professors and deans, according to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. At a news conference, the monitors said there were too many violations for them to enumerate.

"The second round did not meet a considerable number of standards of the OSCE and the European Council for democratic elections," said Bruce George, a Briton who is the observer mission chief for the OSCE, which called for a review of the vote by Ukrainian authorities.

In Washington, the State Department called on Ukraine's government to investigate the fraud allegations or risk a changed relationship with the United States. "Quick action on the part of the government of Ukraine is required," said J. Adam Ereli, a department spokesman.

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