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Ukrainians Vote for New President in Tight Race


Voters across Ukraine are casting ballots for a new President to succeed outgoing President Leonid Kuchma. The election is being watched by the West as a possible indicator of the country's future course.

Tens of thousands of Ukrainians are expected to vote before the day is over in a race so tight it is expected to go to a second round.

Voters have a choice of more than 20 candidates, but only two are seen as real contenders, pro-Russia Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich and pro-western opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko.

The election is seen as a virtual referendum on outgoing President Kuchma, who after two five-year terms in office, is backing his prime minister to be his successor.

Opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko has said new leadership is needed to orient Ukraine toward the West, especially in terms of political, economic and social reform.

This voter from Kiev says Mr. Yushchenko is the only decent man, in his words, who can make Ukraine prosperous and free for all.

The man says he thinks there will be more opportunities for work in Ukraine if Mr. Yushchenko is elected president.

But another voter said it will take more than one man to bring Ukrainians a better future. The man says change can only happen when the Ukrainian people's mentality changes.

A passerby, who was not voting, said it was "hopeless" to talk of change in Ukraine, which he said has been reduced to banditry and corruption.

Each of the leading contender's camps has accused the other of trying to disrupt the poll, or of inciting its supporters to violence.

Many voters at the polls Sunday admitted they were concerned about the possibility of violence, despite President Kuchma's pledge to protect law and order.

The government is reported to have troops on the ready, though a heavy police presence was not visible as voting got underway in the capital Sunday.

Just days before the vote, metal barriers were placed around election commission headquarters in central Kiev, where votes will be tallied overnight. The fence was thrown up in a hurry after a rally attended by an estimated 100 thousand Yushchenko supporters ended with minor altercations.

The European Union and United States say it is not too late for Ukraine's leaders to ensure a free and fair poll, despite what they say was a disappointing pre-election campaign that was overshadowed by irregularities and media bias.

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