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Ukraine's Voters Turn Out for Closely Watched Presidential Election Re-run


Millions of voters in Ukraine are casting ballots in an historic re-run of presidential elections to replace outgoing President Leonid Kuchma. The race has been bitterly contested, including dual legal challenges in the nation's Supreme Court, which cleared the way for Sunday's re-run.

The new chairman of Ukraine's Central Election Commission, Yaroslav Davydovych, says voting is proceeding normally, with no immediate violations reported.

Election commission officials report that turn-out was slightly less in the early hours of voting than it was at the same time during the previous two rounds, despite clear, bright skies on polling day. Before the day is over, nearly 35 million Ukrainians are expected to vote.

Outgoing President Leonid Kuchma crossed himself before placing his vote in the ballot box for what he said he hoped would be the last time to vote in this bitterly-contested election.

Mr. Kuchma said, whoever is defeated in the race should call and congratulate the winner on Monday in order, he said, to end the nation's long electoral struggle.

Opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko says he is confident he will win the re-run. He contested his defeat in the previous voting, saying there was massive fraud. Mr. Yushchenko, who brought his three young daughters into the polling booth Sunday morning as he cast his ballot, said he was sure the vote would be a victory for democracy in Ukraine.

Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, who had his earlier win annulled, criticized Saturday's Constitutional Court decision striking down part of the recent electoral law changes as, in his words, too little, too late.

He later smiled widely when asked by a reporter whether he would file an appeal with Ukraine's Supreme Court, if opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko is declared the winner. He said he would need to see the results first, before making any decision.

The speaker of Ukraine's parliament, or Rada, Vladimir Lytvyn, has urged both candidates to accept the outcome of Sunday's vote, whatever it may be. Mr. Lytvyn says the two leaders should shake hands in the spirit of cooperation, and then move on, for the sake of Ukraine's future stability.

This country of 48 million has been brought to a virtual halt for three months, amid the political stand-off, which, at one point, had leaders in the eastern industrial regions threatening to hold referendums for self-rule.

That idea has been shelved for the time being. But there are still real concerns that the losing party might not accept the results of the re-run and call supporters into the streets, or file additional legal challenges, which could delay the outcome.

This young voter, a student in Kiev, admits she never expected she would have to vote three times in order to elect a new president. But she says all things worth anything in life require some sacrifice.

The woman, an ardent Yushchenko supporter, says any hardship is preferable in her view to living under Mr. Yanukovych's rule.

Mr. Yanukovych, who for a time was the declared winner of the second round, had his win annulled by Ukraine's Supreme Court, which cited massive voter manipulation and fraud, especially in his traditional eastern strong-holds.

Numerous electoral and constitutional changes have since been enacted, in an effort to prevent repeat instances of fraud. A record number of foreign and local observers are spread out across Ukraine monitoring the vote, which could give a clear indication of whether Ukraine will align itself with western democracies or remain under Russia's influence.

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