The European Union has expressed alarm at the way the Ukrainian presidential election was conducted and is urging the authorities of the former Soviet republic to act with restraint in the face of public protests. The European Union has instructed its members to call in the Ukrainian ambassadors in their capitals to voice the bloc's disappointment at the outcome of the vote.
European Union foreign ministers, meeting in Brussels, called for the Ukrainian government to review the results of Sunday's second round of balloting and the subsequent vote-counting.
Although no official result has been announced, Ukrainian election officials say that, with 99 percent of the ballots counted, Prime Minister Victor Yanukovich maintains a narrow lead over opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko.
Crowds of Yushchenko supporters have gathered in downtown Kiev to protest the results, and the situation there is tense.
The EU team of election observers worked closely with monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe, a continent-wide human rights organization.
OSCE chief election monitor Bruce George told reporters in Kiev that the election was not up to international standards.
"The second round of the Ukrainian presidential elections did not meet a considerable number of OSCE commitments, Council of Europe and other European standards for democratic elections."
In Brussels, Dutch Foreign Minister Bernard Bot, whose country holds the EU rotating presidency, told reporters each one of the 25-nation bloc's members will lodge individual expressions of concern.
"We have also decided that all member states will call in the Ukrainian ambassador to convey our message of serious concern about the outcome because we understand from the reports of observers over there that the second round of elections have clearly fallen short of international standards," said Mr. Bot. "We also call on the authorities to show restraint because I understand that many people are gathering not only in Kiev, but in other cities, and we call, as I say, we call for restraint on all sides to express themselves only in a non-violent manner."
Earlier, Mr. Bot made no secret that the European Union wanted challenger Yushchenko to win the election. Mr. Yushchenko wants Ukraine to eventually join the European Union and NATO and become part of the West. Mr. Yanukovich wants to strengthen ties with Russia.
No EU member has been as adamant as Poland in urging its partners to build ties to Ukraine and encourage it to develop its democratic institutions. Polish Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz says the Ukrainian authorities must think again about the election results.
"Today, foreign ministers discussed the issue and decided to adopt a statement expressing our disappointment, calling for a kind of review of the proceedings and the results of the elections, and saying that it will have its impact on our relations with Ukraine," said Mr. Cimoszewicz.
EU officials say that, if the Ukrainian authorities insist on maintaining the result that now stands, their country's ties with the bloc could become complicated.