Yushchenko Supporters Celebrate Victory

Times Staff Writer

KIEV, Ukraine — Supporters of Viktor Yushchenko, winner of Ukraine's bitterly contested presidential election, gathered in central Kiev's Independence Square today to celebrate his still unofficial victory.

With all precincts counted, the Central Election Commission said Yushchenko won with 51.99%, to 44.19% for his opponent, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, who has vowed to contest the result.

The Council of Europe, which monitors human rights, urged Yanukovich to accept defeat.

"I call on all parties to accept the verdict of the ballot box and to refrain from rhetoric which may fuel division in Ukraine," said Terry Davis, the council's secretary general.

In an interview in Russia's Izvestia newspaper, Yushchenko said his initial priority as president will be to ensure that strained ties between his camp and Moscow do not carry over into state-to-state relations.

Moscow had backed Yanukovich during the campaign and in a dispute over a November runoff that the prime minister narrowly won by official count. But that voting was later invalidated by the Supreme Court because of fraud.

"We can and must turn this page if we are friends and are prepared to look one another in the eye," Yushchenko was quoted as saying in Izvestia.

"Russia is a neighbor of Ukraine," Yushchenko said.

"It's better to quarrel twice with your wife than once with your neighbor. We shouldn't forget our Slavic roots, kinship links, culture and language. If you care about the interests of Ukraine, you should know once and for all that Russia is your partner. We should be more considerate of each other. Past problems should not govern the future," Yushchenko said.

He added, "There are many politicians on either side who speak first and think afterward. But there are some sober-thinking people in Moscow who are ready to meet us halfway. Coming to terms with Russia is not the biggest challenge facing us."

Meanwhile, Prosecutors say they are looking into the death of the minister of transport, reported Monday, as a possible case of someone "driven to suicide."

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