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Opposition Candidate Leads In Ukraine Runoff

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Opposition Candidate Leads In Ukraine Runoff

Europe

Opposition Candidate Leads In Ukraine Runoff

Opposition Candidate Leads In Ukraine Runoff

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Russia-friendly candidate Viktor Yanukovych held a narrow lead Monday in Ukraine's presidential runoff election. His opponent isn't ready to concede, saying it's too close to call. If Yanukovych is the victor, that could restore much of Moscow's influence.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

We still have no clear winner from yesterdays presidential election in Ukraine, but the pro-Russian candidate has taken the lead in the early results. His name is Viktor Yanukovych, which is a familiar name to many people because he ran for president in 2004, and when he was declared the winner, it touched off street protests, which led to the so-called Orange Revolution. Now hes back.

Earlier today, we spoke with NPR's David Greene outside the candidate's election headquarters in Kiev.

DAVID GREENE: I guess when you have these revolutions that are named after colors, there came be a lot symbolism. It was the Orange Revolution back in 2004. And now this area outside the central election commission in central Kiev is all blue, which are the - is the color for Viktor Yanukovych. Several thousand of his supporters are out here. Its an orchestrated rally. You know, they have blue tents almost barricading the area around the central election commission, as if they want to show this is our turf.

Its not clear how people are getting here. You know, theres always questions in Ukraine about whether schools are told by campaigns to let their students come or businesses are told to let their workers out. But the people Ive spoken to so far have said we are behind this candidate, Viktor Yanukovych. Were here on our own will. And were going to stay here, so - as they put it -this election is not stolen from us.

INSKEEP: I suppose we should remember I little bit of why this is significant. Ukraine is a former Soviet Republic. Its in Europe. Its between Russia on one side and the rest of Europe in the other. And I guess one question is here is which way Ukraine is going to lean, toward Russia or the West, right?

GREENE: Its always the question, Steve, and its in a very strategic place, as you said, you know, Poland to the west, Russia to the east. Its always sort of pulled between these philosophies. And I think the thing to notice that back in 2004, you know, former President George W. Bush, other Western leaders, I mean, they just embraced the Orange Revolution. They thought was going to be a very neat, tidy story. Ukraine had decided its future. It wanted freer democracy. And thats the way Ukraine was going.

And now I think were learning if these results do hold and Yanukovych wins, that things are not so cut-and-dry in this part of the world. It can ebb and flow, and theres a lot of debate about what philosophy people want, what type of leader they want. Viktor Yanukovych has promised to be a tough boss, to put things back in order in a country where the economy has been in bad shape. And hes gotten a lot of support. So I think that its still an open question as to where Ukraine is going, as you said.

INSKEEP: David Greene, you said if these results hold. Is anybody at this earlier stage questioning the results or the fairness of the election?

GREENE: Yeah. And people like to say election results are always questioned in Ukraine. And the Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko - and you might remember her. She was a force in the Orange Revolution, as well. Shes a blonde, impassioned politician. She was out on the streets calling people to fight for democracy during the revolution. She has not accepted these results yet. The count, as of now, shows her a few percentage points behind. And she said that this thing is not over, and her camp is going to look for every vote they can possibly find. And so we might see some legal challenges. And we don't know yet when this is going to be real clear.

INSKEEP: And sense of where Western governments stand on all this?

GREENE: I think theyre being careful. You know, Western governments have sort of been frustrated with Ukraine. This has been five years of a lot of political infighting and paralysis in Kiev. The economy has suffered. So people who were very pro-Orange Revolution, pro-democratic movement are watching this, I think, with some anxiety, although Viktor Yanukovych, the candidate, has said he would open the door to Europe, even though he is seen as the pro-Russian candidate. He wants more free trade. He wants to integrate Ukraine into the EU. At the same time, he talks about protecting Russian language in this country, which is not something that a lot of Western Ukrainians want to hear. They speak Ukrainian. They consider themselves very European. So I think a lot of people in the West, a lot of leaders in other countries are watching this unfold with some trepidation.

INSKEEP: NPRs David Greene is in Kiev.

David, thanks very much.

GREENE: Always a pleasure, Steve.

INSKEEP: David spoke with us earlier on MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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