Ukraine's Yanukovich shrugs off criticism of election
By Richard Balmforth
KIEV (Reuters) - Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich shrugged off international criticism on Tuesday of an election which showed his party on a winning course, while opposition nationalists alleged vote-rigging and threatened possible street protests.
With the count from Sunday's vote nearing its end, Yanukovich's Party of the Regions and its communist allies were set to retain a comfortable majority in the 450-seat parliament to cement his grip before he seeks a second term in 2015.
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which sent 600 observers, called the election a "step backward" for Ukraine's democracy. It said state resources were misused to support the ruling party and media were biased, and noted that Yanukovich's main rival, ex-prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, is in jail. It did not however criticise the voting itself.
"The observers gave a positive assessment to the process of voting," Yanukovich said in a statement that ignored the OSCE's critical comments about the election campaign.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton backed the OSCE criticism and called on Yanukovich to free Tymoshenko.
"We share the view of OSCE monitors that Sunday election constituted a step backward for Ukrainian democracy," Clinton said, adding that "politically motivated convictions" of opposition leaders like Tymoshenko had kept them from standing.
Tymoshenko has announced a hunger strike in protest against what she called electoral fraud. Her party has yet to make a statement on results that show it placing second and losing about a third of its parliamentary representation.
The election will bring two other opposition parties into parliament for the first time, making the fractious body even rowdier - a liberal bloc led by world heavyweight boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko, and a far right group. Each looked set to secure about 35-40 seats, enough to make them viable fixtures on Ukraine's political scene. Continued...