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Yanukovich to win Ukraine presidency: exit polls

07 lutego, 2010

Opposition leader Viktor Yanukovich was on course Sunday to win Ukraine\'s presidency, exit polls showed, after an election that punished pro-Western politicians and paved the way for closer ties with Russia.

If confirmed, the results would mark a startling comeback by the pro-Moscow Yanukovich, who lost the last presidential polls in 2004 when courts annulled his initial victory as fraudulent after the Orange Revolution uprising.

The exit polls gave Yanukovich a lead of three to five percent over Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, a champion of EU integration, in a tense run-off that had sparked warnings of post-election protests.

Yanukovich snared 48.7 percent of the vote compared to Tymoshenko\'s 45.5 percent, with a substantial 5.5 percent of votes going to "against all" on the ballot, according to the National Exit Poll conducted by research centres in Kiev.

Another exit poll commissioned by Ukraine\'s ICTV television found that Yanukovich had 49.8 percent of the vote compared to Tymoshenko\'s 45.2 percent, with 5 percent going to "against all".

Profile: Viktor Yanukovich

But after a charged campaign full of insults and accusations of violations, Tymoshenko insisted the exit polls had no bearing on the final results.

"The exit polls... are mere sociology," a defiant Tymoshenko told reporters at her election headquarters, dramatically dressed in a cream-coloured outfit and with her trademark golden hair braid.

"So long as the last count is not made, it is impossible to talk about any kind of results."

Tymoshenko\'s right-hand man, Deputy Prime Minister Olexander Turchynov, spoke of "extensive falsifications."

A top Yanukovich aide, Anna German, praised the elections as "transparent" and said the exit polls showed it now time for Tymoshenko to prove herself a democrat by admitting defeat.

Tymoshenko had previously vowed her supporters would protest on the streets if she detected fraud by her rival.

Yanukovich\'s campaign seemed ready to counter that threat, however, setting up dozens of tents and sending hundreds of supporters around key official buildings in Kiev.

A senior interior ministry official, Volodymyr Mayevski, said Yanukovich had made a request for a gathering of 50,000 people in Kiev.

The Orange Revolution, which saw people flood into the streets to protest the fraudulent 2004 elections, raised hopes of a new future in the ex-Soviet republic of 46 million people located between the EU and Russia.

But voters thumpingly rejected the hero of the Orange Revolution, President Viktor Yushchenko, in first-round polls in January, after he failed to realise grandiose dreams of bringing Ukraine into NATO and the European Union.

Yushchenko and his former Orange ally Tymoshenko descended into farcical bickering as Ukraine was rocked by the economic crisis, its GDP plunging 15 percent in 2009, more than any other major European economy.

The telegenic Tymoshenko had sought votes by pledging to redouble efforts to bring Ukraine into the EU, though she also has warm ties with Russian strongman Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Yanukovich has profited from the economic crisis but he is still ridiculed for his inarticulate speech, such as a gaffe in the campaign where he mixed up the words for "gene pool" and "genocide."

There remains controversy over his criminal record, which includes convictions for theft and assault in the Soviet era that were erased by the courts in 1978.

Tymoshenko also had brushes with the law in a gas smuggling case, where she was eventually cleared.

In a parting shot at Tymoshenko and Yanukovich, Yushchenko scoffed as he voted "against all" on Sunday that Ukraine would be "ashamed" of the result whoever won.

Turnout was heavy across the country at 69.4 percent, the Central Elections Commission said.

Related article: Anger and broken dreams as Ukraine votes