Fistfights, tear gas, sobs as Kiev tallies vote

Nov 2, 2012, 6:40 PM

Associated Press

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) – Nearly a week after Ukraine’s parliamentary election, officials on Friday were still counting votes in eight key districts across the country, in what the opposition says was a clear example of widespread vote-rigging by the ruling party.

The disorderly count has touched off Ukraine’s penchant for violent political passions. As the count dragged on at one election commission in the capital, fistfights broke out, tear gas was fired and an election official broke down in sobs. At another election commission in Kiev, police pushed the opposition candidate when he tried to approach a table where ballots were located and he broke a rib and finger when he fell.

Opposition leaders are threatening to take to the streets if the alleged vote-rigging isn’t stopped _ a potentially serious move in a country where massive demonstrations in 2004 forced the rerun of a fraud-ridden presidential election.

Western observers have denounced Sunday’s election as unfair. They said the imprisonment of President Viktor Yanukovych’s arch-foe, Yulia Tymoshenko, and non-transparent vote tallying were a step back from democracy.

With counting completed for most of parliament’s 450 seats, Yanukovych’s party and its allies appeared sure to have enough seats for a majority. But the opposition is intent on denying Yanukovych the two-thirds majority needed to change the constitution and is fighting for every seat in the legislature.

The opposition claims its candidate in Kiev’s district commission No. 223 defeated the pro-government candidate, but that election officials are trying to inflate the winner’s tally and undercount opposition votes.

The stakes are high for the government-aligned candidate Viktor Pylypyshyn, 51, a former Kiev district head who faces charges of abuse of office that prosecutors say cost the city nearly $2 million. Fearing imprisonment, Pylypysyhyn is desperate to get the immunity granted to Ukrainian lawmakers.

The standoff at No. 223 began soon after polls closed Sunday when election monitors reported that district election officials had inflated votes in favor of Pylypyshyn. Central Elections Commission officials intervened and corrected some of the results. But district officials then started throwing out opposition votes over various technicalities.

The deputy head of the district election commission, Anastasia Prymak, acknowledged that her commission initially reported incorrect figures, but claimed a computer malfunction was the cause. “It was a purely technical mistake. I don’t understand how that happened,” the distraught Prymak told The Associated Press on Friday.

Prymak said she had slept on her office floor since the vote-count began and hasn’t bathed in three days. On Thursday, Prymak sobbed uncontrollably after she got into a melee between opposition and pro-government supporters as she tried to leave a vote-counting session.

Olha Haharina, a member of Prymak’s commission, confirmed that her colleagues have tended to accept most votes in favor of Pylypyshyn and invalidate those of opposition candidate Yuri Levchenko, a 28-year-old British-educated economist. Haharina voted against those decisions, but was defeated by Pylypyshyn loyalists on the commission.

“Sometimes everything is done according to the law, but is still unfair,” Haharina said. “The dose of adrenaline I received during these elections is too high.”

Volodymyr Serhiyenko, whose local election commission reports to No. 223, has been trying to register results from his polling station, which show Levchenko winning, since Wednesday night, but Prymak and her colleagues have refused to accept them without any explanation, he said.

Chaos reigned in the small room at the district election commission where the 18-member body was tallying votes amid piles of brown cardboard boxes where election protocols were kept. One election monitor slept on the floor, next to a pile of sweets, and rolls of pink toilet paper brought by volunteers, using clothes as a pillow. Others dozed off on narrow wooden chairs.

Most opposition activists and monitors looked visibly exhausted, having occupied the room for days in a bid to guard the ballot boxes. Outside, amid a heavy drizzle, opposition activists handed out pastry, candy bars and cups of hot tea, while police in full riot gear protected the building from a group of menacing-looking men.

Rostislav Demchuk, an election observer affiliated with the opposition, said beefy young men from Pylypyshyn’s campaign once tried to steal a backpack where opposition activists were keeping photocopies of election protocols, leading to a brawl. On Wednesday someone fired tear gas during another melee between the two camps.

“Never in my life, have I seen such an outrage,” said Demchuk. “Even in the Soviet times, it never got this bad.”

When vote-tallying finally began, emotions ran high.

“You are engaged in direct falsification,” shouted Levchenko, the young opposition candidate. “You are all simply bandits!”

“You are going to end up in jail, we guarantee you that!” yelled a Levchenko supporter, dressed in a traditional Ukrainian embroidered shirt. “Your neighbors will come for you. You won’t be able to live in this country anymore!”

“I cannot take this anymore, these threats, these insults,” yelled back a commission member.

Central Election Commission officials said they hope to tally all votes by Saturday night, but one commission member suggested the contested individual races may have to be decided with a new vote.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

World News

A fisherman watches smoke rise after Russian forces launched a missile attack on a military unit in...
Associated Press

Russia’s Black Sea Fleet headquarters hit by drone strike

An explosive device carried by a makeshift drone blew up Sunday at the headquarters of Russia's Black Sea Fleet on the Crimean Peninsula.
10 days ago
Medical syringes are seen with 'Monkeypox' sign displayed on a screen in the backgound in this illu...
Associated Press

Monkeypox declared a global emergency by UN health agency

The expanding monkeypox outbreak in more than 70 countries is an “extraordinary” situation that qualifies as a global emergency.
18 days ago
Chinese paramilitary policemen march in front of the Japanese embassy where the Japanese flag is fl...
Associated Press

Japan’s ex-leader Shinzo Abe assassinated during a speech

TOKYO (AP) — Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was assassinated Friday on a street in western Japan by a gunman who opened fire on him from behind as he delivered a campaign speech — an attack that stunned a nation with some of the strictest gun control laws anywhere. The 67-year-old Abe, who was Japan’s […]
1 month ago
Firefighters hose down a burning car after a strike hit a residential area, in Kramatorsk, Donetsk ...
Associated Press

Russia taking ‘operational pause’ in Ukraine, analysts say

Analysts say Russia may be taking an "operational pause" in eastern Ukraine to reassemble forces for a significant offensive.
1 month ago
Prime Minister Boris Johnson enters 10 Downing Street, after reading a statement in London, Thursda...
Associated Press

One scandal too many: British PM Boris Johnson resigns

LONDON (AP) — Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced his resignation Thursday after droves of top government officials quit over the latest scandal to engulf him, marking an end to three tumultuous years in which he tried to bluster his way through one ethical lapse after another. Months of defiance ended almost with a shrug as […]
1 month ago
Ukrainian servicemen carry the coffin with the remains of Army Col. Oleksander Makhachek during a f...
Associated Press

As Ukraine loses troops, how long can it keep up the fight?

ZHYTOMYR (AP) — As soon as they had finished burying a veteran colonel killed by Russian shelling, the cemetery workers readied the next hole. Inevitably, given how quickly death is felling Ukrainian troops on the front lines, the empty grave won’t stay that way for long. Col. Oleksandr Makhachek left behind a widow, Elena, and […]
2 months ago

Sponsored Articles

Mayo Clinic Orthopedics and Sports Medicine

Why your student-athlete’s physical should be conducted by a sports medicine specialist

Dr. Anastasi from Mayo Clinic Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in Tempe answers some of the most common questions.
(Courtesy Condor)...
Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines shows passion for destinations from Sky Harbor with new-look aircraft

Condor Airlines brings passion to each flight and connects people to their dream destinations throughout the world.
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

Vaccines are safe if you are pregnant or breastfeeding

Are you pregnant? Do you have a friend or loved one who’s expecting?
Fistfights, tear gas, sobs as Kiev tallies vote