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Ukraine's Supreme Court Starts to Hear Last Electoral Appeal

Ukraine's Supreme Court has begun hearing Viktor Yanukovych's last legal appeal contesting the results of the December 26 re-run presidential election. The process could take the better part of the week, as the first day was devoted to procedural matters.

The justices met for more than seven hours and spent most of that time discussing whether or not to allow Mr. Yanukovych's team of international lawyers to participate in the hearing process.

It was rough going at the start, with both justices and lawyers differing over procedure. The confusion was only made worse by the use of at least three different languages in the courtroom Ukrainian, Russian and French.

In one particularly memorable exchange, lawyers for the declared winner of the poll, Viktor Yushchenko, asked Mr. Yanukovych's counsel if they are familiar with Ukrainian law, or the Ukrainian language. But the court decided that Mr. Yanukovych's Swiss lawyers will stay.

His lawyers have said he needs outside, or foreign counsel, because they believe the court to be biased in favor of Mr. Yushchenko, who was officially declared the winner a week ago. They also say Mr. Yanukovych has not ruled out submitting another appeal to a European court, such as before the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe, if the Supreme Court does not rule in his favor.

Mr. Yanukovych told reporters in Kiev that he wants the Supreme Court to invalidate the December 26 re-run because of what he alleges is widespread fraud. He wants the court to call a new election and says he is only asking for what is correct and fair.

But he says he sees now that fair is only possible for one person in Ukraine, an apparent reference to his rival Yushchenko, who succeeded in winning his election appeal, which overturned the first results and led to the re-run election.

Mr. Yanukovych also suggested that he could not keep his supporters from coming out into the streets in protest if the Supreme Court rules against him, as is widely expected.

Pro-Yanukovych rallies were held in Dniepropetrovsk, Lugansk, and Donetsk. They are large, traditional eastern strongholds that, like Mr. Yanukovych, favor continued strong ties with Russia.

Tuesday, the justices are due to resume examining Mr. Yanukovych's claim, which consisted of more than 600 documents when it was submitted to the court. Once the court issues a ruling, parliament is free to set the date for the winner's inauguration.

The Speaker of Ukraine's parliament, Vladimir Lytvyn, says a rehearsal ceremony has already been held for the official swearing-in that will take place in parliament. Tens-of-thousands of Ukrainians are expected to turn out for the public inauguration ceremony to follow on Ukraine's central square.