December 2, 2004 in Nation/World

Ukrainian president calls for new elections

Matthew Schofield Knight Ridder
 
Associated Press photo

Opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko shows a V-sign during an opposition rally Wednesday in Kiev.
(Full-size photo)

KIEV, Ukraine – The Ukrainian Parliament voted Wednesday to dismiss Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych’s government, a devastating blow to the man accused of stealing the presidential election.

Yanukovych responded by asking the Supreme Court to annul the suspicious election results, which showed him winning by about 800,000 votes. He later agreed to enter negotiations with the opposition after the court finished its deliberations and reached a decision on charges of electoral fraud.

President Leonid Kuchma, who backs Yanukovych, his protege, called for a new election, complete with a new campaign season.

Analysts saw the government’s move to hold new elections as an attempt to stall and do anything to keep opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko from taking power.

Officially, Yanukovych won the presidential election by just under a million votes. But he and his political machine have been accused of faking 3 million votes.

On the icy streets of Kiev, Yushchenko addressed thousands of his supporters, who believe the Nov. 21 run-off election was stolen from him. He rejected proposals to open the field and start a new presidential election from scratch. He instead suggested a repeat of the run-off vote on Dec. 19.

Demonstrators saw the developments as a sign of weakening, even desperation, by the government. More than 100,000 cheered and bounced excitedly in their orange scarves, sweaters, hats and plastic bands, the symbolic color for Yushchenko. As they cheered, they chanted, “Freedom cannot be stopped,” and “Victory.”

Cheers, car horns and fireworks continued at Independence Square, the center of the capital, until long after dark, as the protesters celebrated a successful day from their tent cities on the cold streets, where they’ve camped for almost two weeks.

An entirely new election, which would take months, would cause enormous problems for the opposition, as running a fresh campaign would cost money and Yushchenko supporters don’t have the deep pockets of the pro-government forces.

It also would take away the momentum of Yushchenko’s supporters, who’ve taken over the center of the city, and would risk voter burnout, as there probably would be two more rounds of votes.

A Supreme Court judge, listening to court presentations over the allegations of fraud, asked a government attorney: “Have you been instructed merely to drag out the time this matter is before the court?”

Parliament narrowly passed the no-confidence vote, which calls on the prime minister to step down or the current president to fire him, although it remained unclear when or whether its will would be acted on.

Still, the message of the vote was clear, as legislator and former President Kuchma adviser Oleksandr Volkov noted afterward: “The people determine the future, and Yushchenko has their power right now.”

Volkov said he walked through the crowds Tuesday night and became convinced they had no intention of backing down.

“Kuchma has to make the only right decision in this case, to surrender,” he said. Failing to do so could lead to an economic collapse and a growing separatist movement, he added.

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