Polls have closed in Ukraine's election to select a successor to outgoing President Leonid Kuchma.

Local observers in the former Soviet Republic say voter turnout was higher in this election than during the previous presidential election four years ago.

Voters had a choice of more than 20 candidates, but only two are seen as real contenders to succeed President Kuchma - pro-Russia Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich and pro-western opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko.

Oleksandr Maximenko oversaw the voting at one of Ukraine's main polling stations in the center of the capital. He says the ballot went smoothly overall, and that there were only minor problems with voter lists at his headquarters.

Mr. Maximenko said, by midday, more than 50 percent of the voters registered to cast ballots at this central polling station near Ukraine's parliament, or Rada, had done so.

Tensions were running high in the lead up to the vote, and many analysts and voters alike expressed concern about the possibility of violence. The European Union and United States were highly critical of what they say were numerous irregularities and media violations during the pre-election campaign, potentially compromising chances for a free and fair vote.

But a Russian observer for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe says the fears, in his view, were unfounded.

The observer says he would not call the poll a mess, as some have suggested, but rather okay. He cited overall organizational problems, but he attributed the blame for that to the tense pre-election atmosphere.

The close race may be decided by returns from Central and Southern Ukraine, neither of which are traditional strongholds for either candidate.

In those regions, local news reports cite massive violations, especially in the cities of Odessa and Kirovograd. But there was no way to immediately confirm the reports, which were denied by correspondents on government-controlled Ukrainian state television.

In Kiev, three armored personnel carriers are in clear view behind a newly-constructed metal fence ringing central election headquarters, where the vote count will be carried out overnight.