Ukraine opposition leader claims victory
Updated: 2004-11-23 00:04
Opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko defiantly claimed Ukraine's presidency
Tuesday, taking a symbolic oath of office in parliament, as about 200,000 of his
orange-clad supporters massed outside in the frigid streets of Kiev demanding
the disputed election be overturned.
Yushchenko warned of "civil conflict" if
he is not recognized as the country's new leader, accusing the government of
rigging Sunday's run-off in favor of pro-Kremlin Prime Minister Viktor
|Ukraine's opposition presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko takes
an oath with his hand on a bible at the parliament hall in Kiev, November
23, 2004. Ukraine's presidential election plunged into chaos on Tuesday
with the losing candidate reading the oath of office in parliament while
outside some 200,000 supporters demanded the government admit it had
On the parliament floor, after a special session, Yushchenko approached
the podium and swore an oath on a 300-year-old Bible as lawmakers who backed him
shouted, "Bravo, Mr. President!"
Outside, throngs of his supporters massed behind metal barriers, holding
a giant orange ribbon over their heads. They chanted "Criminals, go away!" and
"Yushchenko!" Some waved signs reading, "Today or Never." Earlier, Yushchenko
led the crowds in a march on the building, turning Kiev's narrow, brick streets
into a sea of orange ¡ª the color of his campaign.
A huge crowd jammed Independence Square for a second straight night. Snow
fell as Yushchenko's supporters waved flags and signs and chanted his name.
Four trucks with sand, which presumably could be deployed as barricades,
were parked near the main square. Several other trucks loaded with sand and
concrete rubble were parked about 400 yards from the square, as were two buses
full of men, one of whom described them as "volunteers to protect the
constitution and prevent a coup d'etat.
Ukrainian media reported that people from Donetsk, an industrial city in
eastern Ukraine that supported Yanukovych, were being bused in to the capital.
A 100,000 crowd of
supporters of opposition presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko wave
national flags in central Lviv, the nationalist heartland of western
Ukraine, November 23, 2004. Up to 200,000 protesters rallied outside an
emergency session of Ukraine's parliament on Tuesday demanding authorities
admit they cheated in a presidential poll, which showed the country's
Moscow-backed prime minister had won.
"Ukraine is on the threshold of a civil conflict," the Western-leaning
Yushchenko earlier told lawmakers in the chamber before his oath. "We have two
choices: Either the answer will be given by the parliament, or the streets will
give an answer."
The legislators had gathered for the emergency session to consider his
request to annul the election results with a vote of no-confidence in the
Central Election Commission, but it ended without taking any action. Only 191
lawmakers turned up, and support from at least 226 members of the 450-seat
parliament was needed for a motion to succeed. Many pro-Yanukovych legislators
simply stayed away.
The parliament vote would have been nonbinding anyway because it was not
initiated by the president, who supports Yushchenko's opponent.
Many of the legislators who did show up sported orange scarves or ribbons
and urged him to take the oath of office. Yushchenko's supporters filled the
gallery, chanting his name.
"All political forces should negotiate and solve the situation without
blood," said Volodymyr Litvyn, speaker of parliament, appealing for calm.
"The activities of politicians and the government ... have divided
society and brought people into to the streets," Litvyn said. "Today there is a
danger of activities moving beyond control."
Opposition leader and Yushchenko ally Yulia Tymoshenko, wearing an orange
ribbon around her neck, called on lawmakers "not to go to into any negotiations"
with the government. Instead, Tymoshenko said, they should "announce a new
government, a new president, a new Ukraine."
The election commission's announcement Monday that Yanukovych was ahead
of Yushchenko has galvanized anger among many of the former Soviet republic's 48
million people. Official results, with more than 99.48 percent of precincts
counted, showed Yanukovych leading with 49.39 percent to his challenger's 46.71
But Western observers said the election was seriously flawed, and exit
polls had put Yushchenko clearly ahead.
Russian President Vladimir Putin denounced criticism of the Ukrainian
election by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, saying the
group's conclusion is "inadmissible" because there are no official results.
"They should be more careful and responsible," Putin said of the OSCE, which
monitored the balloting along with other Western groups.
"We cannot recognize or protest results that are not yet official," Putin,
who strongly praised Yanukovych during the campaign and congratulated him
afterward, told a news conference during a visit to Lisbon, Portugal. "Ukraine
is a state of law. It doesn't need to be lectured."
OSCE observers said extensive indications of voting fraud were found in
Ukraine's presidential election Sunday, including people apparently voting
multiple times and voters being forced to turn over their absentee ballots to
Yushchenko supporters have set up tents awash with orange on Kiev's main
avenue and in Independence Square, pledging to stay despite freezing
temperatures until he is declared president. People continued to arrive in
minibuses and on foot.
Yushchenko and his allies had released a statement appealing "to the
parliaments and nations of the world to bolster the will of the Ukrainian
people, to support their aspiration to return to democracy."
The opposition will conduct "a campaign of civil disobedience" and "a
nonviolent struggle for recognition of the true results of the election," the
"We appeal to the parliaments and nations of the world to bolster the will of
the Ukrainian people, to support their aspiration to return to democracy," a
statement from Yushchenko's campaign office said.
Mykola Tomenko, a lawmaker and Yushchenko ally, said some police had joined
the opposition, although the claim was impossible to independently verify. One
police officer, wearing an orange ribbon in his uniform, ordered a group of
police outside a government building to retreat inside, defusing tension between
them and Yushchenko supporters.
Kiev's city council and the administrations of four other sizable cities ¡ª
Lviv, Ternopil, Vinnytsia and Ivano-Frankivsk ¡ª have refused to recognize the
official results and they back Yushchenko.
The European Union called for an urgent review of the results, and Sen.
Richard Lugar, chairman of the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee, spoke of "a
concerted and forceful program of election-day fraud and abuse."
In televised comments, Yanukovych called for national unity, saying: "I
categorically will not accept the actions of certain politicians who are now
calling people to the barricades. This small group of radicals has taken upon
itself the goal of splitting Ukraine."