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Yushchenko declared official winner

Date: January 11, 2005
By: Olga Nedbayeva

Ukrainian election officials on Monday declared Viktor Yushchenko the official winner of a presidential rerun vote, paving the way for the hero of the "orange revolution" to be inaugurated as the third president of an independent Ukraine.

"During the repeat election of December 26, Viktor Yushchenko has been elected president of Ukraine," central election commission chief Yaroslav Davydovich announced to applause and cheers at the end of nearly a seven-hour meeting in Kiev.

"Yu-shchen-ko! Yu-shchen-ko!" chanted Yushchenko's supporters packed in the commission meeting room as they unfurled an orange flag of their standard bearer�s campaign.

Monday's announcement paved the way for parliament to set a date for Yushchenko's inauguration, despite vows by his defeated rival, former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, to keep up a legal challenge over the election.

"This is the happiest day of my life," Petro Poroshenko, a deputy in Yushchenko's Our Ukraine bloc and one of the four leading candidates for the post of prime minister, told AFP after the vote.

"Ukraine has proved that it is a European country. A new country and a new government were born today," he said.

Nester Shuffrich, a Yanukovich representative at the commission, promised to appeal the results with the Supreme Court.

"Unfortunately the election results have been determined with violations of the election law and the constitution. We will discuss these violations tomorrow or the next day at the supreme court," he said.

Yanukovich has vowed to exhaust all his avenues for appeal, in what many observers say is an attempt to boost his image as a Yushchenko adversary ahead of next year's crucial parliamentary elections.

According to final results, Yushchenko won the election with 51.99 percent of the vote compared with 44.20 percent received by Yanukovich, a difference of 2.27 million votes on turnout of 77.19 percent.

Yushchenko's inauguration will put an end to weeks of political turmoil that flared with a now-discredited November runoff election to choose a successor to the 10-year authoritarian-leaning regime of outgoing leader Leonid Kuchma in the strategic former Soviet republic.

The official swearing-in ceremony is expected to take place in parliament, followed by a symbolic one on Kiev's Independence Square, the epicentre of Yushchenko's "orange revolution" that roiled the nation and echoed on the world stage.

"It'll be flashy and interesting, with twists," Oleksander Zinchenko, Yushchenko's campaign manager, promised during a press conference in Kiev on Monday.

Many in Kiev speculate the inauguration could take place this week, perhaps on Friday, New Year's Day in the Julian calendar used by the Orthodox Church to which most Ukrainians adhere.

The December 26 rematch between Yushchenko and Yanukovich was set after the Supreme Court threw out results of a November 21 runoff, which election officials said was won by Yanukovich, because of massive fraud.

The ruling came amid massive "orange revolution" protests as hundreds of thousands of people descended on Kiev to support their standard bearer.

The standoff between the Russia-friendly regime of Kuchma, who had anointed Yanukovich his successor, and the Western-leaning Yushchenko rippled internationally, with Washington and Brussels backing the opposition leader while Moscow lined up behind the Prime Minister.

The central election commission presiding over the November poll was one of the sources of that fraud and the chief of the one overseeing the December 26 ballot has gone to lengths to open its proceedings to public scrutiny.

So while the November commission pronounced Yanukovich the winner after a 15-minute hearing three days after the poll and without examining Yushchenko's complaints of fraud, Davydovich's commission sat for nearly seven hours as results from each of Ukraine's 225 election districts were read aloud for the record on the last day allowed by law to officiate the results.

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