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Ukrainians Prepare to Elect New President

Ukraine's outgoing president is calling for a smooth and peaceful election Sunday to choose his successor. The poll is being watched in the United States and Europe as a key indicator of the country's future course.

Ukraine's pre-election campaign has been overshadowed by claims of irregularities and media bias, and heavily criticized by the West. But at the close of campaigning, outgoing President Leonid Kuchma dismissed the criticism, and urged voters and electoral officials to ensure a smooth poll.

Speaking on national television, President Kuchma said there should be no doubt his government will secure law and order, despite concerns about possible violence during the voting.

The presidential race is virtually tied between two contenders, pro-Russia Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich and pro-Western reform candidate Viktor Yushchenko of the opposition Our Ukraine bloc.

Neither candidate is expected to clear the required 50 percent threshold, making a second round run-off vote in mid-November highly likely.

The United States has said it will rethink cooperation with Ukraine, if the vote does not meet democratic standards.

The Yanukovich camp was upbeat as campaigning drew to a close, holding a street party on a main downtown square near parliament.

Elsewhere in the capital, Kiev, a more somber sounding Mr. Yushchenko was discussing plans to monitor the vote with his supporters.

Mr. Yushchenko said his party was working to provide every polling station with a full set of legal documents, as well as video and photo cameras for independent party observers.

Latest reports from the independent Ukrainian Committee of Voters, a major rights watchdog, quotes electoral officials on the eve of the vote as saying voting lists still have huge numbers of mistakes that could seriously compromise the vote. For example, the committee says every third voter's name is listed incorrectly, and in some constituencies, voters report being given two invitations to come to vote.