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US Urges Ukrainian Authorities Not to Use Force Against Election Protesters

The United States reiterated its call Tuesday for a complete investigation of the disputed presidential election in Ukraine. In the meantime, U.S. officials are calling on Ukrainian authorities not to use force against demonstrators protesting preliminary results.

The State Department says U.S. officials "question" preliminary results showing Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych the apparent winner.

While calling for a complete and transparent investigation of the fraud charges, the United States is also urging Ukrainian authorities not to use force against supporters of former Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko, who are claiming victory and holding mass protests in Kiev.

State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli told reporters U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst has met with aides to Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, election officials, and members of the political opposition in Kiev to urge restraint on the part of all those involved in the political crisis.

Mr. Ereli said it is evident there is a "widespread perception" in Ukraine that the elections were unfair and did not reflect the will of the people.

That is why, he said, the United States is making clear that Kiev authorities need to take steps now to address those concerns, though he said it is not making specific demands or insisting on a timetable.

"Obviously we think it's important to act expeditiously and to move decisively in the right direction," he said. "But I'm not in a position to be prescriptive for you and tell you in specific detail what steps need to be taken [and] when. Clearly, however, what we're looking for is a decision and action to investigate reports of fraud, determine what happened, and take corrective action, if warranted, and to do it in a verifiable and demonstrable way."

Under questioning, Mr. Ereli made clear that the United States was not endorsing what was described as the "symbolic" oath of office taken in parliament by the opposition candidate, Mr. Yushchenko.

Though Mr. Yuschenko is widely described as a reformer interested in closer ties with NATO and the European Union, the State Department has repeatedly said it is not taking sides in the electoral dispute with Mr. Yanukovych, the choice of the outgoing president, Mr. Kuchma, and a favorite of Moscow.

The United States has alleged campaign bias toward Mr. Yanukovych by the government and state-run media.

President Bush sent a letter to Mr. Kuchma on the eve of last Sunday's vote warning that the future of U.S.-Ukrainian relations would be determined by whether the election was fair or not.

Spokesman Ereli said the election returns announced thus far are not final, and he urged authorities in Ukraine not to certify the results pending a fraud investigation.