Ukraine poll candidates clash over West

Ukraine's two presidential candidates have clashed over relations with the West at the close of a campaign that has thrown the ex-Soviet state into turmoil.

    Yushchenko (L) and Yanukovich will square off on Sunday

    Liberal opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko, the favourite in Sunday's

    contest after vast crowds supporting him took to the streets to denounce fraud in a previous ballot, said Ukraine's strategic task was to begin integrating with Europe.

    Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, declared the winner in last month's poll, later annulled by Ukraine's supreme court, accused opponents of serving foreign groups trying to seize power.

    The prime minister says he was robbed of victory.

    Outgoing President Leonid Kuchma accused both sides of putting

    personal interests before the country, but said he viewed

    the recent upheaval "with understanding".

    Sunday's vote is the third in less than two months.

    Yushchenko, recovering from dioxin poisoning he blames on
    authorities, told reporters he would win and stressed his pledge to nudge Ukraine towards Europe.

    Russia relations

    "I will win because I already won the first and second rounds. And this time I will win the third round," Yushchenko said.

    "Whatever cheating may still occur, it will not affect the political

    outcome of the election. Millions came into the street

    to defend their choice. I am convinced this will again be the case on December 26."

    "I will win because I already won the first and second rounds. And this time I will win the third round"

    Viktor Yushchenko,
    Presidential candidate

    Yushchenko describes Russia, which ran Ukraine's affairs for 300 years before independence, as a strategic partner and pledged his first trip abroad as president would be to Moscow.

    The opposition leader, his face still disfigured by poisoning, has also appealed to voters in Russian-speaking areas of eastern Ukraine, the prime minister's stronghold.

    But he said: "Let me say today that Ukraine's strategic interest lies in integrating with Europe."

    That means securing status as a market economy, joining the
    World Trade Organisation and then launching difficult talks on
    joining the European Union.

    Yanukovich, backed earlier by Kuchma but now critical of
    him, favours closer ties with Russia. He denounces the mass
    protests as a coup by Yushchenko's supporters.

    Political scandals

    Speaking to 5000 supporters in the capital, Yanukovich said a vote for him would allow Ukrainians to run their own affairs.

    "The most important thing is that we alone shall be masters
    on our land. Don't you agree?" he bellowed in a hoarse voice.


    Yanukovich said the West fears Ukraine as a competitor and "spent huge sums to converge on our country with go-betweens to seize power and remove competition. Will we allow them to do this?"

    "The most important thing is that we alone shall be masters
    on our land"

    Viktor Yanukovich,
    Ukrainian Prime Minister

    Kuchma said voters had to decide which path Ukraine was to take, but change in any society had to come gradually.

    Both sides, he said in a television address, had yielded to "the temptation to claim glory for themselves and blame their
    adversaries for sins of all sorts, real and imagined".

    "I view with understanding everything that occurred in recent weeks in Ukraine," he said. "Authorities took no steps involving the use of force, even to uphold public order."

    Yushchenko, who predicts he will win at least 60% of the vote, says he will start building an economy free of the scandals that plagued Kuchma's 10 years in office.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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