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International Monitors Echo Ukrainian Opposition Claim of Fraud

The head of European observer missions in Ukraine says Sunday's second-round presidential ballot fell far short of international standards. The assessment comes as opposition street protests intensify, following an announcement by Ukraine's Central Election Commission that official returns give Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich the lead.

The chief of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Bruce George, says the second round of Ukraine's presidential election did not meet, what he called, a considerable number of democratic standards.

Much like the first round on October 31, Mr. George said Ukraine's authorities failed to correct problems from voter lists, continued to abuse state resources, and that observers found pro-government media bias. U.S. Senator Richard Lugar, monitoring the election for the White House, called the ongoing violations serious.

Europe and the United States have both warned Ukrainian authorities of unspecified consequences if the authorities failed to ensure a free and fair poll.

Three vote counts are currently going on in the capital, Kiev. But the chairman of Ukraine's Central Election Commission, Sergey Kivalov, says there is only one count that should be taken seriously. He says that is the one put out by his commission, which gives pro-Russia Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich the lead over pro-reform opposition challenger Viktor Yushchenko.

Mr. Kivalov discounts opposition claims of victory. He also says the Central Electoral Commission's vote count is the only legitimate vote count under Ukrainian law.

But opposition leader Viktor Yuschenko says his supporters will never accept the Central Electoral Commission's version of events.

Yushchenko supporters in Kiev have taken to the streets to protest the election and thousands more are reportedly on their way to the Ukrainian capital. The latest turn of events is raising fears that the bitterly fought second-round elections could end in bloodshed, especially as the latest reports from the capital indicate a growing police presence, including that of special forces.

Independent political analyst Ivan Lozowy in Kiev says the next hours will likely bring forth a tremendous battle of wills and political loyalties.

"The grip by the government is not all that secure over the law enforcement bodies and of course when, or if, push comes to shove, namely the demonstrators decide to march on the central electoral commission building or on the presidential administration building, at that point the key question will be whether the law enforcement bodies listen to an order to disperse the demonstrators," he said. "If they do not, certainly the government will most likely fall. And I think that is really the only realistic scenario in which [Mr.] Yushchenko becomes president."

Mr. Lozowy says he bases this view on what he sees as the government's current position of strength.

"The opposition is in the relatively bad situation that they are behind the eight-ball and they have to be very pro-active because as time slips by their initiatives, their demonstrations, the initiatives with the tent cities, especially with cold weather coming on and the winter really setting in across Ukraine, these initiatives are likely to lose steam," he explained.

Tuesday, analyst Lozowy says the opposition will also try to force some sort of remedy through parliament. But he says he does not foresee much success for that initiative.