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Ukraine Looks to New Year for Pro-Western Political Course


In Ukraine, outgoing President Leonid Kuchma is expected to deliver his last New Year's Eve address, closing out a year that climaxed with weeks of political unrest and massive opposition street protests surrounding disputed presidential elections. The opposition leader expected to be the new president will herald a new political future, joined by the leader of another former Soviet republic that served as inspiration to many of Ukraine's opposition supporters.

In a message posted on his official Web site, outgoing President Leonid Kuchma wishes Ukrainians peace, good health and happiness in the New Year. Later this evening, Mr. Kuchma is expected to address the nation for the last time.

In a rare departure from tradition, the apparent winner of Ukraine's weekend presidential election, pro-reform opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko, has invited the leader of last year's peaceful "Rose Revolution" in Georgia to spend New Year's in Kiev.

Mikhail Saakashvili, who led the massive opposition street protests in Tbilisi that swept long-time Communist leader Eduard Shevardnadze from power, accepted Mr. Yushchenko's invitation. He said he felt it very important to be in Kiev at, what he called," this decisive time in Ukraine's history."

Mr. Saakashvili, who attended college in Kiev, was the first foreign leader to congratulate Mr. Yushchenko on his apparent victory earlier this week. In a televised message broadcast on Ukrainian television, Mr. Saakashvili sent his best wishes in fluent Ukrainian to Mr. Yushchenko and the Ukrainian people for what he called their glorious victory.

The sight of the two leaders sharing the stage in Kiev Friday night is sure to rankle Russian President Vladimir Putin, who recently said that continuous so-called "revolutions" in the former Soviet space risk destabilizing the region. In Moscow Friday, a Kremlin spokesman called on all political forces in Ukraine to show restraint following the bitter election saga.

Mr. Yushchenko's victory has not been officially confirmed, due to continuing legal challenges, this time filed by Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. For a brief period, he was the declared winner of the second-round runoff, before it was invalidated by Ukraine's Supreme Court for massive voter manipulation and fraud.

Final preliminary results from the re-vote give Mr. Yushchenko an 11-percentage point margin of victory over Mr. Yanukovych, who has only one legal avenue remaining, with Ukraine's Supreme Court.

It is not clear when that appeal will be taken up, given the lengthy Orthodox holiday period now beginning in Ukraine and other former Soviet Republics.

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