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Last Updated: Thursday, 28 October, 2004, 10:28 GMT 11:28 UK
Dirty tricks mar Ukraine election
By Helen Fawkes
BBC News, Kiev

It started off as an ordinary election campaign for Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko.

Anti-Yushchenko poster
Yushchenko's team claims attacks have gone well beyond posters
Then came a bizarre twist.

At the start of September, the opposition leader's campaign team said he had been deliberately poisoned.

With half his face paralysed and finding it difficult to talk, Mr Yushchenko told Ukraine's parliament this was not just food poisoning, but somebody trying to kill him.

"This is not a problem of a normal kitchen. We are talking about a Ukrainian political kitchen, where assassinations are ordered!"

His opponents have denied being involved.

The opposition leader has spent a month off the campaign trial. Up until then Mr Yushchenko was the frontrunner, but it is now neck and neck in the opinion polls.

Violations

There are more than 20 candidates in the race.

Campaigning
Many Ukrainians doubt whether the elections will be fair

But only two men are seen as having a realistic chance of winning - Mr Yushchenko and the Prime Minister, Viktor Yanukovych.

Mr Yanukovych is backed by the outgoing President, Leonid Kuchma, who has been Ukraine's leader for more than 10 years.

Voters go to the polls on 31 October, but the campaign has been marred with allegations that the government's resources are being used to campaign for Mr Yanukovych.

"Unfortunately there have been cases where the authorities have acted as if they were still working for a communist state and so there have been violations of the election laws," says the prime minister.

But allegations of bad behaviour have also been made against the opposition.

On a visit to Western Ukraine, a stronghold of the opposition, the prime minister was hit with an object.

Baby kissing

TV pictures show an egg smashing on Mr Yanukovych's chest. But the prime minister's campaign team claim he was struck by a heavy object and needed hospital treatment.

I don't trust any of them. They are playing a political game with our future
Ivan Fedorov,
market trader

They allege the incident was orchestrated by the opposition, something they deny.

There has been international concern about the way the presidential election campaign has been reported by Ukrainian media.

The media has been criticised for its bias in favour of Mr Yanukovych. The majority of the main TV channels are pro-government and are closely linked with the president, who is backing the prime minister.

"On the television every evening, you can see the same faces, the prime minister shaking hands, kissing babies. You can rarely see the other candidates," says Hanne Severinsen, from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

But pro-presidential TV channels say they are just reporting the official business of Mr Yanukovych.

There is little confidence in the fairness of the election campaign. Anti-opposition posters have appeared in cities across Ukraine.

Tonnes of material to discredit the opposition have since been discovered in warehouses in the capital.

Hard choice

Opinion polls found that only one in 10 people think the presidential election will be fair.

Pro-Yanukovych poster
Mr Yanukovych has the backing of the president and most TV stations
"It's so difficult to choose one candidate, as the campaign has been so brutal and dirty." says Olga Pavlenko, a nurse in Kiev.

"I don't trust any of them. They are playing a political game with our future," adds market trader Ivan Fedorov.

It is feared that if the result is seen as rigged there could be trouble on the streets of Ukraine.

Members of the opposition have said they will hold a mass protest on polling day if they think the election has been stolen from them.

The government claims that the opposition is planning to stage a revolution.

If there is civil unrest, the authorities say they will use force to restore order.




SEE ALSO:
Putin praises Ukraine's leader
26 Oct 04 |  Europe
Raids on Ukraine poll opponents
22 Oct 04 |  Europe
Country profile: Russia
05 Sep 04 |  Country profiles
Country profile: Ukraine
13 Oct 04 |  Country profiles


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