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Bush Backs Election Monitors in Ukraine

President Bush wants a strong presence by international election monitors at this month's second attempt at a presidential runoff vote in Ukraine. The first vote was scrapped after widespread reports of fraud drove thousands of opposition supporters to surround government buildings.

President Bush telephoned Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus and Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski to thank them for their mediation efforts in Ukraine, saying their own experiences in Lithuania and Poland offer valuable lessons for Ukrainians hoping for a democratic election.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan says the three leaders agreed on the need for all parties in Ukraine to implement reforms in good faith to ensure a free and fair vote on December 26.

That ballot was ordered by Ukraine's top court after it invalidated results from a November 21 election amid widespread evidence of voter fraud. The contest pits pro-Russian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych against Western-leaning opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko.

The Polish and Lithuanian leaders helped mediate talks between the two candidates, ultimately agreeing on rules for the December 26 vote and changes to the balance of power between Ukraine's president and parliament.

White House spokesman McClellan says President Bush offered continued support for those mediation efforts from the United States together with the European Union.

"The president underscored the importance of international observation of the December 26th vote and agreed that the international community needed to remain focused on supporting a peaceful, democratic process that reflects the will of the people in Ukraine," said Scott McClellan.

The United States is sending 100 observers to Ukraine as part of a 960-member team from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Washington is also spending $3 million on election monitoring in a contest that has raised tensions with Moscow over the future of a country that was once part of the Soviet Union.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has suggested the Bush administration is using a U.S.-based democracy group to support Mr. Yushchenko's candidacy.

Speaking in Brussels, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said the non-government group known as Freedom House has not done anything inappropriate in Ukraine. Secretary Powell says the United States is not taking sides in the election and only wants to make sure that all sides have the opportunity to express their views.