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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 November, 2004, 15:16 GMT
Tense Ukraine awaits poll results
Kiev protest
Yushchenko supporters have taken to the streets in freezing conditions
Ukrainians are awaiting the publication of official results in the country's disputed presidential election, as massive street protests continue.

The European Commission has urged Ukraine not to announce the result before reviewing the contentious vote.

Opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko has said the vote was rigged in favour of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.

Tens of thousands of opposition supporters are gathered outside the election commission in central Kiev.

Riot police are positioned outside but the protests have been peaceful so far.

It is the third day of rallies by supporters of Mr Yushchenko, but a number of supporters of the prime minister are also on the streets.

The Ukraine election commission had planned to announce the final results at 1400 GMT but the announcement has been delayed.

With almost all of the votes counted, the commission has already indicated that Mr Yanukovych won Sunday's second-round vote, but exit poll results had shown Mr Yushchenko ahead.

A short time ago, Mr Yushchenko told tens of thousands of supporters: "I speak to you as the president of Ukraine, elected by the people."

He told them he was prepared to have a re-run of the vote if it was run by "honest" officials.

Strike threat

The opposition has refused to meet Mr Yanukovych to discuss the dispute.

Ukrainians give their views on where the country is heading

International observers have raised concerns and say the vote was not free and fair. The US and EU have called for Ukrainian authorities not to certify the election until the fraud allegations are investigated.

"We consider there is a place in the European family for a democratic Ukraine," said the new head of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso.

"We regret that the Ukrainian authorities have not taken the opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to democracy."

Talks between outgoing President Leonid Kuchma and the opposition are now not expected to take place, despite earlier expectations.

ELECTION RIVALS
Presidential candidates in the run-off: Viktor Yanukovych (left) and Viktor Yushchenko
Viktor Yanukovych:
Aged 54
Jailed twice in his youth
Raised pensions and public sector pay before election
Would make Russian second official language and allow dual citizenship
Viktor Yushchenko:
Aged 50
Was prime minister 1999-2001
Promises to fight corruption, create five million jobs and pursue free market reforms
Would seek deeper relations with the West

Deputy head of Mr Yushchenko's headquarters Taras Stetskiv said the opposition wants Mr Kuchma to declare the elections as falsified and name Mr Yushchenko as president.

If the authorities fail to respond to these demands, the opposition "will paralyse the country", he said.

"There will be no trains or cars moving, and there will be a general strike," he added.

International leaders, such as EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, have raised concerns that violence could erupt in Ukraine. But Mr Stetskiv said he thought the possibility of violence was "not high".

"We know the mood of the army and police," he said. "They are not going to shoot at their own people."

Mr Yushchenko and Ukrainian Defence Minister Alexander Kuzmuk have both called for the army to remain calm.

Mr Kuzmuk said there would be no movement of troops in relation to the protests.

'Political farce'

In the east, where many people feel as much Russian as Ukrainian, there have been protests in support of Mr Yanukovych.

Ukraine's opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko takes a symbolic oath of office

Russia TV has reported that thousands of miners from the eastern Donbass region have taken special trains to Kiev to back the prime minister.

Mr Yanukovych has told his cabinet he does not believe anything extraordinary is taking place in the country.

"It is necessary that people live in the normal mode. Therefore, we must carry our constitutional duty and ensure the vital activities of state," he said.

On Tuesday, Mr Kuchma called the opposition's protests a "political farce".

He said authorities would not be the first to use force but were "ready to uphold law and order".

The opposition says it has recorded thousands of voting irregularities in Sunday's poll, including a near 100% turnout in some pro-government strongholds.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Why the election is bitterly disputed




FROM OTHER NEWS SITES:
Guardian Unlimited Putin stokes Ukraine crisis - 51 mins ago
ABCNEWS.com Yushchenko Appeals to Ukraine High Court - 55 mins ago
FOXNews.com Ukrainian Opposition Begins Protest Strike - 1 hr ago
CNN Court challenge in Ukraine crisis - 1 hr ago
Los Angeles TimesUkraine Opposition May Block Highways - 1 hr ago
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