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Outgoing Ukrainian President Urges Nation to Support New President

Ukraine's outgoing President Leonid Kuchma is calling on the country's 48 million people to put the bitterness of the recent presidential election behind them and rally behind the incoming president. Mr. Kuchma issued the appeal in his last live, televised address to the nation New Year's Eve, just minutes before midnight.

President Kuchma says the New Year brings a new president for Ukraine, a man he says will need the support of all Ukrainians from the eastern industrial regions of Donetsk and Dniepropetrovsk, to Lviv in the West, and Crimea in the South.

Mr. Kuchma urged Ukrainians to accept as their own what, he called, this democratic choice. He refers to the latest presidential run-off, which was declared free and fair by more than 12,000 international and domestic observers.

He avoided naming the new president throughout his brief remarks as final official results of the election have yet to be certified, due to ongoing legal challenges by pro-Russia rival, Viktor Yanukovych. But final preliminary results give opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko a commanding win, with a margin of more than 10 percentage points.

Mr. Kuchma also gave thanks that the election stand-off, which at one point threatened to divide the nation had ended peacefully.

It is not known how many people saw Mr. Kuchma's address because at virtually the same time, tens-of-thousands of people were packed on Kiev's central square, or Maidan as it is called, for a victory party staged by the political opposition.

The highlight of the event was an address by the apparent new president, Viktor Yushchenko.

Mr. Yushchenko says the year 2005 will bring Ukrainians both independence and freedom. He said until now, Ukraine has had one without the other.

He said his New Year's wish for Ukraine is national solidarity.

Mr. Yushchenko shared the stage with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili. Mr. Saakashvili, who led his own people's revolution in Tbilisi last year that swept long-time Communist leader Eduard Shevardnadze from power, said he felt it very important to be in Kiev at, what he called, "this decisive time in Ukraine's history".

Mr. Saakashvili said his heart was with the protesters who, he said, preserved the future of democratic Europe.

The festivities concluded with a traditional champagne toast and then the skies above Kiev lit up in a kaleidoscope of shimmering fireworks.