Community News

Friday, February 5, 2010

Both Ukrainian presidential hopefuls plan protests

Yanukovych won handily in the first round of voting last month, 35 percent to 25 percent. Tymoshenko is expected to close at least some of the gap by picking up votes splintered among candidates in the first round.

Political observers say that Tymoshenko isn't likely to concede the race easily.

"Regardless of what the gap between them is - one and a half percent or 10 percent - she will not accept defeat," said Mikhail Pogribinsky, director of the Kiev Center of Political Research and Conflict Studies. "Then we will enter a new era of instability until a broad agreement is reached between the winner and the loser."

Both candidates have strong geographic constituencies. Tymoshenko is popular in western Ukraine, while Yanukovych is the standard-bearer for the east, center of the country's large ethnic Russian minority.

"There remains a deep rift right along the Dnepr River - the southeast versus the northwest," said Sergei Markov, a Russian lawmaker and election monitor, referring to the river that runs through Kiev.

"The new president will need to mend these two camps in order to become not just the president of western Ukraine but all of Ukraine," he said.

As opposing parties trade increasingly bitter accusations, Yushchenko expressed concern that Ukraine's democracy was eroding.

"With every passing day, the situation is becoming ever more intolerable. Unfortunately, we are moving away from European democratic norms," Yushchenko said Friday in an unscheduled government meeting attended by top security officials.

Ukraine's acting interior minister, a Tymoshenko loyalist, said Friday that about 2,000 former police and security guards have arrived in Kiev to serve as muscle for Yanukovych. Acting Minister Yury Lutsenko said the massing of so many security veterans raises concerns about election unrest.

Yanukovych's spokesman declined to comment on Lutsenko's statement.

The campaigns of both candidates were to culminate Friday evening in rallies at two separate Kiev squares one block apart. Both were expected to draw thousands of supporters, raising fears of clashes.

Each camp has accused the other of planning to steal or disrupt the election.

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