KIEV, Ukraine – The Supreme Court began hearings Monday on what could be the last appeal by former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych (search) over alleged fraud in the presidential election he lost to Ukrainian opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko (search).
Yanukovych, who garnered 44.2 percent of votes against Yushchenko's 51.99 percent in the Dec. 26 election, has called on the court to annul the results and order a rerun.
The December election was a rerun of Nov. 21 voting, in which Yanukovych was declared the winner, but that was annulled by the high court after allegations of massive voting fraud.
Much of the alleged fraud was connected with misuse of absentee voting procedures that allowed multiple ballots to be cast. After that election, the parliament passed election reforms that eliminated absentee balloting — but that provision was overturned by the Constitutional Court the day before the December voting.
That left little time for many old and ailing people to make voting arrangements. Yanukovych's appeal focuses on that issue, claiming that large numbers of Ukrainians were denied their right to vote.
The court on Monday rejected a request by Yanukovych's camp for one of the judges to be excluded for saying the court had already dealt with major elements of the complaint.
Ahead of the hearing, Yanukovych accused the court of "adopting a biased position beforehand."
The court previously had rejected an array of minor appeals from the Yanukovych camp.
"I and millions of my voters were thus deprived from our right to appeal to the court which constitutes a serious violation of the constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights," he said at a news conference.
Yanukovych's legal team at the hearing included three Swiss lawyers, who were a visible reminder of his stated intention to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights (search) if the Ukrainian court rules against him.
Yushchenko representative Yuriy Kliutchkovsky complained about their presence: "They don't know Ukrainian law, they are not familiar with the court proceedings and they don't speak Ukrainian."
The lawyers' translator speaks Russian rather than Ukrainian, but Yanukovych's representative Shufrich said they had been "studying Ukrainian law for 10 days.
Yushchenko, a Western-leaning reformer, cannot be inaugurated until his rival has exhausted his appeals. Remnants of the mass of supporters who turned out to protest the Nov. 21 vote remain in a tent camp on Kiev's main avenue.
Kliuthchkovsky accused Yanukovych of "openly delaying the inauguration."
The Foreign Ministry has asked foreign dignitaries who are planning to witness Yushchenko's inauguration to "understand the circumstances" and keep their schedules flexible.
"We already have protocol and security forward parties arriving. We are working on the scenario of the event," said Foreign Ministry's spokesman Markiyan Lubkivskiy.
Late last week, Yulia Tymoshenko a key opposition leader and Yushchenko ally, said that the inauguration was expected this week.