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It is people's power: Yushchenko

By Vladimir Radyuhin

MOSCOW, DEC. 27. The West-leaning Opposition leader, Viktor Yushchenko, won Ukraine's re-run presidential election, trumpeting his victory as liberation from a corrupt post-Soviet regime.

With over 99 per cent of the votes counted, Mr. Yushchenko captured 52.2 per cent against 44.01 per cent for his rival, the Prime Minister Victor Yanukovich. More than 2 per cent voted against both candidates.

"For 14 years we have been independent. Now we have become free," Mr. Yushchenko told supporters in Independence Square, site of more than two weeks of mass protests that forced authorities to cancel the November 21 run-off result which was in favour of Mr. Yanukovich. "People proved their power, they rebelled against probably the most cynical regime in Eastern Europe."

Vote challenge

The campaign manager of Mr. Yanukovich, Taras Chornovil, claimed there had been three million illicit votes and said they would challenge the vote result in court. According to official count, the difference between the two candidates was just over two million votes.

The Central Election Commission head, Yaroslav Davydovich, said the vote had split Ukraine practically in half, with western and central agricultural regions supporting Mr. Yushchenko, and the industrialised east and south backing Mr. Yanukovich. After the previous vote, the pro-Yanukovich provinces threatened to set up an autonomy if Mr. Yushchenko came to power.

The United States and Europe, which backed Mr. Yushchenko, sent in an unprecendented 11,000 observers, while Russia, which supported Mr. Yanukovich, was represented by about 1,000 observers. The Russian deputy Parliament Speaker, Lyubov Sliska, said her observer team had registered over 700 irregularities, including virtual denial of voting rights for many disabled people. Western observers, who had slammed the November vote as undemocratic, hailed the re-vote as a "big step towards free and fair elections."

Similarities

Three exit polls, financed by the U.S. and other Western nations, gave Mr. Yushchenko an improbable 15 to 20 per cent lead over pro-Russian Yanukovich, twice as big as the official count showed. In the November vote similar figures showed by the West-funded exit polls triggered the so-called "orange revolution," which paralysed the capital Kiev for over two weeks till the Supreme Court overturned the vote result.

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