Tags: Ukraine | Court | Orders | New | Run-Off | Election

Ukraine Court Orders New Run-Off Election

Friday, 03 December 2004 12:00 AM

The ruling, made after five days of hearings by the court's 18 justices, was a major victory for opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko, who had rejected the government's demands that an entirely new election be held.

The opposition had pinned its hopes on the court's ruling in its bid to overturn the results of the Nov. 21 run-off vote in which Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych was declared the winner. The opposition said the vote was rigged to cheat Yushchenko of victory.

Fireworks crackled in Independence Square, and the opposition supporters who have massed there for nearly two weeks waved orange flags and chanted "Yushchenko! Yushchenko!" Passing cars blasted their horns three times to sound out the three syllables in "Yush-chen-ko."

The ruling was a stinging blow to outgoing President Leonid Kuchma and his powerful ally, Russian President Vladimir Putin, who a day earlier had sharply derided the idea of holding a new run-off.

Kuchma had been pressing for an entirely new election, apparently in hopes of replacing his favorite Yanukovych with a stronger candidate. The spiraling political crisis has undermined his hopes to ensure he is succeeded by a supporter, has paralyzed his government with protests and has raised fears of a split in Ukraine between its east - where support of Kuchma and traditional ties with Russia are strong - and its west - where many want to move closer to the rest of Europe.

In eastern Ukraine, Yanukovych's backers expressed anger the decision. "WE have a president: Viktor Yanukovych," said Konstantin Sadalsky, shaking his fist at a TV screen in an Internet cafe in the city of Donetsk.

The ruling is final and can't be appealed, and both sides have promised to abide by the decision. There was no immediate reaction from Yanukovych or his supporters. Representatives from Yanukovych and the Central Election Commission left the courthouse before the judges announced their decision.

The court ruling said a new run-off vote should be held nationwide on Dec. 26.

Inside the courthouse, Yushchenko's lawyers were jubilant.

"This is a great victory of all people who have been standing at the square, a great victory for Ukrainian democracy," said Mykola Katerinchuk, the Yushchenko lawyer who wrote the appeal.

"This is the only decision we have been waiting for," said Anatoly, a 56-year-old engineer who was among the sea of people filling Independence Square. Protesters danced and swayed in unison to rock music from a stage where performances have been held continually to keep up the spirits of protesters in freezing temperatures over nearly two weeks.

Vladislav Ruban, a 22-year-old computer specialist, said he had hoped the court would declare Yushchenko the winner based on his narrow victory in the first round on Oct. 31, but that didn't happen. Still, he was satisfied.

"It's not that I support Mr. Yushchenko per se, but I am for freedom and for free elections," he said.

Earlier Friday, more protesters - decked out in the opposition's color, orange - came into the city in convoy and crowded the tent city at the square to witness what they hoped would be a dramatic judicial ruling against the Moscow-backed government. The decision came after dark, more than six hours after the judges retired to deliberate.

Protesters also maintained their blockade of the Cabinet building and the presidential administration, which has prevented government workers from going to their jobs.

Parliament scheduled a marathon all-weekend session to pass legislation corresponding to the Supreme Court verdict. It will need to pass changes to the membership of the 15-member Central Election Commission and in election law to help prevent fraud.

Parliament, filled with opposition supporters while many government delegates stay away, has been chipping away at Kuchma's authority. On Friday, it passed a non-binding resolution calling for the withdrawal of the country's 1,600 peacekeepers out of Iraq - a symbolic snub of Kuchma, who ordered the deployment. Earlier, parliament brought down Yanukovych's government with a no-confidence vote.

The crisis has also strained relations between Russia, which has staunchly backed Yanukovych, and the West, which has refused to accept the official results of the vote.

Putin immediately congratulated Yanukovyck on victory after the Nov. 21 run-off, and Kuchma made a hastily arranged visit to Moscow on Thursday for support from Putin as the opposition appeared to be gaining momentum.

Putin denounced the idea of holding a new run-off vote and said the West should not meddle in the crisis.

President Bush, asked about Russia's stance on Thursday, said any new election "ought to be free from any foreign influence."

Before the court's ruling, Poland's president, who has served as mediator in Ukraine's political crisis, warned that the country should hold a new vote quickly or else violence could break out.

"Every day of demonstrations, every day of tension makes the situation more difficult because it is difficult to control," President Aleksander Kwasniewski told Polish state radio. "A spontaneous outbreak is indeed possible and this is the greatest threat in the current situation."

Protesters may try to "take things in their hands and take control of the public offices," which would lead to "police action," he said.

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The ruling, made after five days of hearings by the court's 18 justices, was a major victory for opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko, who had rejected the government's demands that an entirely new election be held. The opposition had pinned its hopes on the court's...
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2004-00-03
Friday, 03 December 2004 12:00 AM
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