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US Hopes for Ukraine Vote Free of Fraud and Abuse

The United States says it looks forward to a Ukrainian presidential vote Sunday free of fraud, abuse and intimidation. In comments Thursday, the State Department again said the Bush administration has no favorite candidate in the race.

The Bush administration was repeatedly critical of what it said was bias by the Ukrainian government in favor of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych in the race with opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko.

But as it did in advance of the disputed November 21 run-off election, it insists that it has no favorite in Sunday's court-ordered repeat election.

The Ukrainian supreme court, citing systematic and massive abuses, invalidated the November election that officials in Kiev initially said had been won by Mr. Yanukovych.

At a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli said it is the U.S. hope and expectation that Sunday's vote will meet international standards for freedom and fairness.

He said the "eyes of the world" will be on Ukraine to a degree not seen in the first two stages of the election process, and that the upcoming polling will be a "historic opportunity" for Ukrainians to make a free democratic choice after last month's crisis and turmoil. "This is an opportunity to validate a truly democratic choice free of fraud, free of abuse, free of intimidation. That was not the case, as determined by the Supreme Court of Ukraine, in the first two rounds," he said.

Mr. Ereli said the United States is joining other countries in sending observers to the election, including at least one member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Arizona Republican Jim Kolbe.

The European Union is also sending monitors. EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who has been working for several weeks to try to calm political tensions in Ukraine, Thursday appealed for a "free, fair, and transparent vote."