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Archive for Friday, December 3, 2004

Putin objects to runoff in Ukraine presidential race

December 3, 2004

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— Russian President Vladimir Putin injected himself directly into the election crisis in this former Soviet republic Thursday, strongly attacking the opposition's central demand for a new presidential runoff.

Tens of thousands of opposition supporters waving Ukrainian flags and wearing orange armbands, sweaters and scarves rallied for the 11th straight day in Independence Square. While awaiting a Supreme Court ruling on whether to throw out the results of the disputed election, they listened to rock bands and watched large-screen televisions broadcasting the court sessions.

Putin, hosting Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, again issued a warning to the West.

"Neither Russia, nor the European Union, nor international organizations will solve the problems," he said outside Moscow. "They all can play the role of mediators, but the Ukrainian people have the last word."

After Putin's remarks, President Bush issued a warning that appeared to be directed at Russia. If there is to be a new election, it "ought to be free from any foreign influence," Bush said in comments that were considered more forceful than those he has made in the past.

Putin had openly supported Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych in the election. The Kremlin fears that a victory by opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko, who favors closer ties with the West, could drag this country of 48 million out of Moscow's orbit and generate pressure for greater democracy in Russia.

The Supreme Court is considering an appeal by Yushchenko's campaign to invalidate the result of the runoff, which the Central Election Commission said Yanukovych won by about 900,000 votes. The appeal centers on claims of widespread violations across the prime minister's strongholds in the east and south, near Russia.

Supporters cheer Viktor Yushchenko as he addresses the crowd at the
Independence Square in Kiev. Thousands of upbeat opposition
supporters waving Ukrainian flags and wearing orange armbands
gathered Thursday in the capital for the 11th straight day.

Supporters cheer Viktor Yushchenko as he addresses the crowd at the Independence Square in Kiev. Thousands of upbeat opposition supporters waving Ukrainian flags and wearing orange armbands gathered Thursday in the capital for the 11th straight day.

The 18 red-robed justices began hearing final arguments but adjourned hours after dark without a decision.

If the court sides with Yushchenko, it would put him in a strong negotiating position with Kuchma to schedule a repeat runoff.

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