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OSCE Praises Ukraine Elections for Moving the Country Closer to Democracy

Ukraine's run-off presidential election is being hailed for moving the country closer to democracy. The head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's election monitoring mission, Bruce George, says the election greatly contrasts from the previous two rounds, which were marred by fraud. He adds the results highlight the Ukrainian people's commitment to democracy.

Releasing preliminary findings on the conduct of Sunday's presidential election in Ukraine, the head of the international observer mission, Bruce George, said the Ukrainian people could be proud of taking a great step forward toward free and fair elections.

Mr. George told reporters in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, that the differences between this round and the last two were remarkable.

"[campaign] Conditions for both candidates were much more equal than in the past," said Mr. George said. "There was no gross abuse of administrative resources, there was no gross imbalance of media coverage by both candidates. Our observers reported fewer reports of pressure on voters."

Mr. George says the election administration was also more transparent and fair. But he says that is not to say that the election was perfect. He says there were still shortcomings, though significantly fewer and more technical in nature.

He said chief among the failings were continuing problems with voter lists. And he says Saturday's decision by Ukraine's Constitutional Court, striking down some new election law changes on mobile voting for the sick and elderly, created some confusion, as well as some allegations of disenfranchisement.

But overall, OSCE Chief George says it is the collective assessment of the international observers that Sunday's voting proceeding smoothly and in a generally calm atmosphere.

He stressed that his group and others are merely observers and that the next chapter in Ukraine's electoral history is up to the Ukrainian people themselves, a people he said proved remarkably faithful to the core principles of democracy: freedom and truth.

Mr. George also discounts those who would claim the latest presidential re-run was invalid. He says those who thought the last elections were free and fair should, as he put it, hang their heads in shame. He also expressed what he said was his own personal opinion that for either party to contest the election at this juncture would be counter-productive.

"I would be amazed if some people felt it necessary to mount a legal challenge, but that is not for us," he said.

The OSCE chief's comments come in response to word that Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych has vowed to appeal the results before Ukraine's Supreme Court against what he says were systemic violations.

A campaign spokesman for the pro-Russia prime minister said independent monitors for the Yanukovych camp registered more than 5,000 instances of vote fraud, namely involving home-based voters whom monitors say were not allowed to vote.

With nearly all votes counted from all precincts, pro-western opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko is holding an eight point lead over his rival, Mr. Yanukovych, according to official results from Ukraine's Central Election Commission. Turnout was reported at 77 percent.

Meanwhile, the speaker of Ukraine's parliament, or Rada, Vladimir Lytvyn has begun preparations for the upcoming inauguration of Ukraine's new president, which under the country' electoral law is to be held 30 days after the publication of the official election results.