Pro-Western candidate in Ukraine's election alleges falsification of votes

Viktor Yushchenko is close on the heels of his rival, Viktor Yanukovych, with less than one percent difference.

&to=' target=_blank>The Central Election Commission announced this morning that, with 69 percent of precincts counted, Yanukovych had 48.58 percent of the vote, compared with Yushchenko's 47.78 percent. About 2 percent voted against both candidates.

The pro-Western challenger in Ukraine's presidential election alleged that there had been blatant falsification in yesterday's run-off election. He called on his supporters to turn out on the streets today and stage peaceful demonstrations.

"I believe in my victory," Viktor Yushchenko said, "but we are saying that today the authorities have launched total falsification" of results, reports The Seattle Times.

According to Bradenton Herald, &to=' target=_blank>Yanukovich supporters in the capital Kiev called the exit polls premature and inaccurate. Final results are not expected until today, at the earliest.

&to=' target=_blank>Yushchenko, 50, who has an American wife, positioned himself as a reform-minded, anti-corruption democrat who would seek closer ties with Europe and the West.

But he also pledged to withdraw the 1,600 Ukrainian troops currently deployed in Iraq, a commitment he derided as a transparent attempt by outgoing President Leonid Kuchma to curry favor with the Bush administration.

&to=' target=_blank>Mr. Kuchma has led the country for 10 years, a period characterized by centralized control and allegations of corruption, illegal arms trading and state support for political violence. After a rocky stretch with the West, he improved relations with the Bush administration in part by deploying Ukrainian troops in Iraq.

Now, with Mr. Kuchma's hours in office winding down, the fierce clash between his hand-picked successor and Mr. Yushchenko has taken the shape of a referendum on his rule and a decision about the nation's course - whether it should orient more to the east, toward Moscow, or westward toward NATO and the European Union.

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