Ukrainian elections: Two Viktors but only one victory

Pro-Western opposition leader &to=http:// ' target=_blank>Viktor Yushchenko was headed for victory in Ukraine's presidential election, exit polls showed, after a vote to decide whether the ex-Soviet republic breaks with the past and aligns itself with the West or remains under Russia's sway.

Three independent nationwide exit polls published after voting ended gave the 50-year-old Yushchenko a lead of at least 15 points over his pro-Russian rival, &to=http:// 20/91/368/14722_multipolarity.html ' target=_blank>Viktor Yanukovych. Early official returns were expected to start being released late Sunday with more complete results due Monday, wrote the Turkish Press.

Ukrainian community leaders living in Britain talked of their hopes the country was about to enter a new era of democracy and openness.

Modern languages teacher Stephen Moroz, 49, of Oldham, Greater Manchester, who has relatives living in Kiev, said: "I feel Mr Yushchenko offers a major step forward for the Ukraine and the Ukrainian people in general.

"There is a real opportunity for the country to advance and I feel a true sense of democracy is really within the people’s grasp.

"There is the chance to look out at a future beyond the interference of Russia", reports the Scotsman.

Yanukovych ridiculed the exit polls, calling them "political technologies supported by the same money that financed the orange coup d'etat." The prime minister has charged that the &to=http:// ' target=_blank>Bush administration and European governments have given millions of dollars to groups supporting Yushchenko.

The campaign was bitter and divisive, and election day violence was widely expected. But the Interior Ministry, the election commission and numerous observer groups reported no serious incidents at the country's 33,000 polling stations.

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