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Sunday, October 31, 1999 Published at 23:02 GMT

World: Europe

Ukrainian president faces run-off

The election count is almost complete

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma is facing a run-off against Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko after Sunday's first round of voting in the country's presidential election.

The BBC's Stephen Dalziel: "Voting was going as many expected"
With 96% of votes counted, President Kuchma is leading with 36.4%, while Mr Symonenko has polled 22.3%, the Central Elections Commission (CEC) reports.

Voting turnout was reported to be around 75%, or 26 million voters, which was higher than in 1994 when Mr Kuchma was first elected president.

He is now almost certain to face a run-off against Mr Symonenko on 14 November.

Regional voting

President Kuchma, a moderate reformer, faced 12 opponents, and needed to win more than 50% of the vote to win outright.

[ image: Mr Symonenko will challenge the incumbent in the run-off]
Mr Symonenko will challenge the incumbent in the run-off
His main support came from the capital Kiev and the west of the country, where Ukrainian nationalism is strongest.

Crimea and the eastern industrial region, which have a larger ethnic-Russian population, voted mostly for Mr Symonenko.

The central region was divided.

President Kuchma must now be hoping that people who did not support him in the first round will vote against a Communist candidate and give him victory in the second.

Left-wing challenge

The strongest competition came from several left-wing candidates who advocated a return to Soviet-style state economic controls and closer ties with Russia.

The BBC's Stephen Dalziel in Kiev: President Kuchma will be stressing the risk of a Communist return to power
Mr Symonenko has played down fears of a return to Soviet-style Communism, pledging to fight bureaucracy and protect honest businessmen.

Other left-wing candidates included radical Marxist Natalia Vitrenko, who called for Ukraine to stop paying its foreign debt, restore its Soviet-time nuclear arsenal and forge an anti-Nato union with Russia and Belarus.

Oleksandr Moroz, head of Ukraine's Socialist Party, promised a Soviet-style social safety net for needy Ukrainians.

The other main contender, former prime minister Yevhen Marchuk, advocated pro-western reforms and promised to take tough steps against crime and inefficiency.

Economics correspondent Andrew Walker: "Ukraine is still experiencing economic decline"
Initial results showed Mr Moroz and Ms Vitrenko both polling around 11%, with Mr Marchuk trailing behind that.

Opponents of Mr Kuchma have complained of unfair campaigning by election officials and of forced voting.

But CEC chairman Mikhailo Ryabets, has rejected the allegations, accusing politicians of "playing games" with the ballot.

Fear of change

[ image: Many Ukrainians have to struggle to make ends meet]
Many Ukrainians have to struggle to make ends meet
During President Kuchma's five years in office, the economy has continued to worsen, with corruption rife and foreign investment paltry.

His supporters have given him credit, however, for managing to avoid civil unrest and improve Ukraine's international standing.

Some Ukrainians, especially pensioners, said they valued continuity above all else.

"I just don't want any changes," said a retired engineer, Lyudmyla Litvynova. "Some kind of stability is always better than living at a time of changes."

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