Ukrainians remain polls apart
HALF a million supporters poured on to the streets of Kiev yesterday as Ukraine’s beleaguered former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych came out fighting for his political future.
"Orange revolution" demonstrators pledged to maintain a strong presence outside the parliament until opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko is installed in his place following Friday’s historic Supreme Court decision that the presidential election must be re-run on Boxing Day.
Even as Yushchenko’s supporters kept up wild celebrations, Yanukovych’s camp said the Moscow-backed prime minister would run again in the repeat play-off. "He is convinced he will win the second time as he won the first time, since 15 million Ukrainians stand behind him," said his spokeswoman, Anna German. "There is no other course. He must go forward."
In the Yanukovych heartlands in eastern Ukraine, there were also ominous warnings from political leaders that the country was still heading for a dangerous split.
Despite Yanukovych’s clear statement that he would not be giving up the leadership of his country without a battle, Kiev continued in celebratory mode yesterday. With the parliament meeting in emergency session to sort out the logistics of the snap election, protestors took to the streets to celebrate victory. They believe their hero, Yushchenko, is certain to be elected president in the new poll.
Rock bands blasted out music from several sound stages in Independence Square and opposite parliament.
After a drop in demonstrator numbers in recent days, the city centre was once more awash with people sporting the familiar orange ribbons, hats and scarves.
In the protest’s epicentre, the sprawling Tent City on the city’s central Kreshatik Boulevard, protestors who have lived in tents for two weeks said they would stay on until elections are held, fearing a government coup.
"We will stay here until the elections. We are waiting for the result to be clean," said Ivan Fedorich, 23, a psychology student. "We won a battle but not the war. We will only go away when Yushchenko is president."
There was no public statement from the outgoing president, Leonid Kuchma, another Kremlin favourite, amid rumours he was hunkered down with his advisers at a presidential retreat outside the capital. Opposition leaders have pledged to prosecute him for his alleged role in the murder of journalist Georgy Gongadze four years ago.
There were reports yesterday that opposition protestors had barricaded Kuchma inside his house in an attempt to stop him leaving the country to drum up support from Russian President Vladimir Putin who openly endorsed Yanukovych’s candidacy.
After a night of joyous celebrations, the mood of protestors was subdued, most gathering around fires set up in oil drums, the woodsmoke swirling over the damp tents.
Organisers have appealed to the population of Kiev to stop deliveries of winter clothing and food, saying they now have too much. Thousands of jam jars with preserved fruit and vegetables, mostly donated by peasants from the surrounding countryside, sit unwanted in giant piles near the tents.
"This is the best day of my life, a real celebration," said Torbach Gorbachev, a 79-year-old World War II veteran, who has slept in Tent City, enduring freezing winds and snow, for two weeks. "It is good to see all these young people out here protesting. When I was their age, I was fighting the Germans."
Yanukovych’s move has surprised many who thought he might concede defeat as he is almost certain to lose the re-run ballot.
The Western world reacted favourably to the Supreme Court decision, with the United States among the first to offer congratulations to the opposition.
A new government was announced, together with a fresh election commission, and several MPs defected to the opposition side, expected to formally take power in the next few days.
It was not all plain sailing for the opposition forces, however. The parliament failed to approve changes to electoral laws proposed by the opposition to prevent official fraud when the election is re-staged.
The legislature adjourned for 10 days without passing a package of bills that would amend election laws, reshuffle the Central Election Commission and make other changes to ensure fair balloting in the December 26 vote.
The vote to adjourn was a setback for Yushchenko.
The Communists and pro-government factions had promised to vote for the package in exchange for the opposition’s support for a constitutional reform bill to trim the president’s powers.
But the compromise deal collapsed after pro-Yushchenko lawmakers said they would only consider the constitutional changes after the re-vote.
Yushchenko said a quick passage of electoral changes were vital for ensuring a fair re-run, and urged hundreds of thousands of his supporters to maintain their vigil in downtown Kiev until electoral amendments become law.
Leaders from pro-Russian eastern Ukraine yesterday condemned the Supreme Court decision, warning the country is headed toward a split.
Police in the industrial city of Kharkiv, about 280 miles east of Kiev, kept several thousand Yanukovych supporters waving blue-and-white flags separated from a much larger number of Yushchenko supporters, who shouted: "We won’t be divided!"
Yanukovych has garnered his strongest support in eastern Ukraine, the heavily industrialised region of the country where the mainly Russian-speaking population has close historical ties to Russia and fears being marginalised by Yushchenko and the Ukrainian-speaking centre and west.
"The eastern and southern regions have laid a plentiful table for the whole Ukraine, but we are being proposed to be waiters [at that table]," said 34-year-old Leonid Gelenko, a pro-Yanukovych demonstrator.
The southern Donetsk region has already set a January referendum seeking a measure of autonomy, raising fears of the country’s break-up.
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Sunday 19 May 2013
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