Ukraine Presidential Race Ends, Tensions High

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's two presidential candidates have staged their final rallies ahead of Sunday's election, while authorities have increased security amid rising fears of unrest.

Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and pro-Russian opposition leader Viktor Yanukovych ended a bitterly-fought campaign Friday with rival rallies just blocks away from each other in the capital, Kiev.

Tensions have mounted in recent days with each side accusing the other of plotting to rig the election. If the margin of victory is close, there is growing evidence the loser will refuse to accept defeat and attempt to mobilize supporters on the streets.

Authorities in Kiev said Friday that Yanukovych's Party of Regions had submitted a permit for a rally of up to 50,000 supporters on Monday. And acting Ukrainian Interior Minister Yury Lutsenko, an ally of Ms. Tymoshenko, said about 2,000 former police and security guards have arrived in Kiev in support of Yanukovych.

Meanwhile, incumbent President Viktor Yushchenko ordered Interior Ministry troops to secure the Central Election Commission Friday after it was surrounded by 250 Yanukovych activists who said they were protecting it from interference by Tymoshenko supporters.

The president told security officials Friday that "with every passing day, the situation is becoming ever more intolerable."

Ms. Tymoshenko has threatened to call mass street protests after accusing her opponent of attempting steal the election by pushing last-minute changes to electoral rules through parliament. The changes scrap requirements that representatives of both candidates be present to supervise the vote count.

On Friday, Tymoshenko's bloc appealed to the Constitutional Court to have the law overturned, but no ruling is expected for several weeks.

Yanukovych, considered the front-runner, is eager for a political comeback. He initially was declared the winner of the last presidential election in 2004. But charges of massive fraud and huge street protests dubbed the "Orange Revolution" led the Supreme Court to order a new election, which he lost.

Source: Voice of America