Ukraine Panel Rejects PM's Appeal

Election officials on Thursday rejected Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's (search) voluminous appeal against results showing he lost this week's presidential revote, saying he had not proved there were any mass violations, a commission member said.

Yanukovych's campaign vowed to take their appeal to the Supreme Court. The prime minister has refused to accept results showing a solid victory for opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko (search) in Sunday's vote. That vote was a repeat of a Nov. 21 race between the two men in which Yanukovych's victory was thrown out by the Supreme Court because of fraud.

Yanukovych submitted 27 volumes of complaints to the commission over Sunday's election, claiming at least 4.8 million people — mainly disabled and sick — were deprived of their right to vote by election reforms introduced after the first run-off.

"Evidence submitted in the claim does not prove mass violations" and could not "influence or effect the results of the vote," said Marina Stavniychuk, a Central Election Commission reading from the preliminary decision, which still must be approved by all members — though it was unlikely to change.

The count by the commission showed Yushchenko winning over Yanukovych with a margin of some 2.3 million votes, but the results cannot be deemed final until all appeals are exhausted.

Yanukovych's campaign manager Taras Chornovyl said they would now fight the decision before Ukraine's highest court, but he was pessimistic.

"I could forecast the decision of the Supreme Court, but it would be wrong to take defeat for granted," Chornovyl said after the vote.

Also Thursday, the Supreme Court rejected four minor complaints Yanukovych had brought against regional election commissions, citing procedural flaws.

International election monitors reported no mass falsifications in Sunday's voting, in sharp contrast to their criticism of the Nov. 21 second-round presidential vote in which Yanukovych was declared the winner.

Suspicions of fraud brought hundreds of thousands of Yushchenko backers, dressed in his campaign color of orange, into Kiev's streets and the Supreme Court eventually annulled the ballot, finding widespread fraud, and calling Sunday's rerun.

Yanukovych has refused to concede election defeat or resign from his prime minister's post despite a no-confidence vote passed by parliament on Dec. 1. By law, he has 60 days to resign, but he has called parliament's move illegal.

He said that Deputy Prime Minister Mykola Azarov remained "directly in charge" of the government's work and said he wants "to focus on the final stages of the election process."

Ukrainian media reported Thursday that he intended to take another leave of absence, but Yanukovych's campaign denied the reports.

"The prime minister is performing his duties," a campaign official said on condition of anonymity.

Yanukovych, who was supported by the Kremlin, draws his support largely from Ukraine's east where pro-Russia sentiment is high, while Kiev and Ukraine's west are strongholds of support for Yushchenko, a Western-leaning reformer.

Meanwhile, Yushchenko issued his New Year's greeting to Ukrainians, saying the country has made a "great step forward."

"The vote has changed the country and it changed us," he said in a message posted on his Web site.

Yushchenko and outgoing President Leonid Kuchma (search) were scheduled to separately meet Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili (search) in Kiev on Friday. The Georgian leader, a staunch Yushchenko backer, was expected to appear later at the New Year's celebration on Kiev's main downtown square.