Presidential poll polarises divided republic

Ukraine has split into two geographic camps in the aftermath of the disputed presidential election.

    Ukranians have taken to the streets to express their anger

    The nationalist west is backing the pro-Western opposition leader, Viktor Yushchenko, to become president, while the Russian-speaking east supports the disputed victory of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich.

    An independent state for only 13 years, this strategic former

    Soviet republic of 48 million people has long been divided between its

    European-minded west that borders Hungary, Slovakia and

    Poland, and the east neighbouring Russia.

    But the conflict over last weekend's presidential poll

    has led to a sudden

    polarisation that opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko warned put it

    "on the verge of civil conflict".

    As tens of thousands of his supporters massed in Kiev's central

    square for the fourth day on Thursday, the key western region of Lviv,

    an opposition bastion, said it would only take orders from

    Yushchenko.

    "We have a legitimately elected president, Viktor Yushchenko,"

    said Mikhail Sendak, the speaker of the Lviv regional assembly,

    which on Tuesday had voted to recognise the opposition leader as

    president.

    Russian-speaking east

    "We in Lviv region will only obey his orders. I call on other

    regions to follow suit and to recognise Yushchenko. The bandits

    falsified the results of the elections," he said.

    Other parts of the west, where Yushchenko got up to 90% of the

    vote, have rejected the official results and proclaimed

    Yushchenko president.

    Viktor Yushchenko (R) says the
    prime minster stole the election

    But in the eastern coal-mining region of Donetsk, where

    Yanukovich hails from, supporters of the prime minister travelled to

    the capital to voice their support.

    Igor Yankovsky, a miner from Donetsk in his 40s, was among a

    group of 200 coal workers who gathered in a park opposite the

    government administration building.

    "We came here to support our president because he is our local

    man. His government raised pensions for us," he said.

    In a sign of the tension, the miner said that when his group

    went to buy bread in a shop in Kiev - where residents are largely

    pro-opposition - the shopkeeper refused to sell them anything and

    turned her back on them.

    'European' west

    "We want to be friends with other ex-Soviet republics, Russia,

    Belarus. I heard Yushchenko saying that people from the east are

    second-class citizens," Yankovsky said.

    The densely-populated east, where Russian is spoken, is the

    industrial heartland of the country, with a huge coal-mining sector

    and heavy industry as well as a military-industrial complex that

    dates back to Soviet times.

    "I am afraid that the government will use every means at its

    disposal to hang onto power"

    Vadim Grechannikov.
    Ukraine's former deputy defense minister

    Western Ukraine was historically part of Poland before being

    absorbed by Soviet Ukraine after World War II, and has a long

    history of resistance, notably with partisan units fighting Soviet

    rule until the 1950s.

    And this region was at the forefront of the movement that led to

    the independence of Ukraine in 1991.

    Religion is also a big dividing factor, with Uniate Catholics in

    the west and Orthodox believers in the east.

    Ukraine's former deputy defense minister Vadim Grechannikov said

    he feared a conflict in Ukraine, where the centre including the

    capital Kiev is mainly pro-opposition and the south including

    Russian-speaking Crimea backs Yanukovich.

    Civil war?

    "I am afraid that the government will use every means at its

    disposal to hang onto power," he said.

    But "many people in the military command are pro-opposition,"

    Grechannikov added, "especially in the regions where Yushchenko won.

    It is possible that he could take power in part of the country and

    assume control over state structures, including the army."

    Viktor Yanukovich was declared
    the winner of the elections

    In a significant statement, the military command in western

    Ukraine said on Thursday it was staying out of the political crisis

    gripping the country and would not act against its own people.

    Mikhail Pogrebinski, a Ukrainian analyst closely linked with

    Kuchma, said the ball was in the court of the "revolutionaries"

    backing Yushchenko.

    He said the pro-Russian communities in east Ukraine "will not

    recognise a candidate placed in power with the help of the European

    Union".

    Without a power-sharing compromise, he warned, "it's a civil

    war".

    SOURCE: AFP


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