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Oct 26, 2014 2:51 PM

Polls: pro-Western parties leading Ukraine vote

The Associated Press

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) Two exit polls indicated that Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko's party will secure a narrow win in Sunday's parliamentary election, falling substantially short of an outright majority.

The vote, which aimed to overhaul a legislature tainted by its association with the ousted former president, Viktor Yanukovych, was expected to usher in a contingent of largely pro-Western lawmakers.

The Rating Group Ukraine exit poll said the Poroshenko Bloc won 22.2 percent of the vote and that Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk's Popular Front party came second at 21.8 percent. A recently formed pro-European party based in western Ukraine, Samopomich, was seen in third with 14.2 percent of the vote.

Another exit poll, organized by three Ukrainian research groups, saw the Poroshenko Bloc with 23 percent of the vote and Popular Front in second with 21.3 percent.

Although they lead rival parties, Poroshenko and Yatsenyuk share pro-Western postures and have campaigned on reform agendas aimed at pulling Ukraine back from the brink of economic ruin. Poroshenko Bloc and Popular Front are likely to form a coalition together with other pro-European parties.

Preliminary official results are expected Monday.

While around 36 million people were registered to vote, no voting was held on the Crimean Peninsula, which was annexed by Russia in March, or in parts of Ukraine's easternmost regions, where unrest is still rumbling and armed pro-Russia separatists have taken a firm hold.

The election marks a closing chapter in the legacy of Yanukovych, who was ousted in February after months of street protests following his November 2013 decision to put ties with the European Union on hold in favor of deepening trade relations with Russia. The protests broadened into a mass uprising fueled by rage at Ukraine's pervasive corruption and culminated in snipers shooting dead dozens of demonstrators.

The outgoing parliament was previously dominated by Yanukovych's Party of Regions, which had its main base of support in the heavily Russian-speaking industrial east.

Some supporters of the Party of Regions were viewed as likely to back the Opposition Bloc party, which both exit polls showed with almost 8 percent of the vote, well above the 5 percent threshold needed to enter parliament.

Nongovernment watchdog Opora estimated that 2.8 million people in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in the east more than half the potential 5 million voters there were unable to cast their ballot.

Tamara Shupa, a 62-year old retiree in Kiev, the capital, said she hoped incoming lawmakers would put an end to the war.

"We are very tired of the war," Shupa said at a polling station. "To bring about change, we need peace."

Andrei Voitenko, a 40-year old teacher casting his ballot at a school in the capital, Kiev, said a new parliament would have to work toward repaying the high price paid by his fellow Ukrainians.

"We are overhauling the government because Ukraine and Ukrainians have made a European choice," Voitenko said. "We need a new parliament to make a European future. We have drawn a line under our Soviet past."

After voting at a polling station in Kiev, Yatsenyuk said the time had come to "reset" parliament and government.

"This is a first tremendous and crucial step to make Ukrainian politics more clear, more transparent, more responsible and more accountable," he said, speaking in English.

Poroshenko visited the eastern town of Kramatorsk, which was wrested from separatist control in July. Speaking at a polling station, he paid tribute to the soldiers who have been fighting separatists for six months.

Voting later in Kiev, Poroshenko said no major polling violations had been recorded.

"We are holding elections that correspond to all European democratic standards," he said.

Poroshenko said he regretted, however, that more than 25,000 troops serving in locations other than their place of official residence were unable to vote.

Ukraine's woes have been compounded by a conflict against armed separatists on the border with Russia that has claimed the lives of more than 3,000 people. Ukrainian security authorities said border troops were fired upon Sunday by rebels in the Luhansk region.

The public mood has turned sharply against the leadership in Moscow over what is widely seen as its direct role in fomenting separatist unrest.

"Russia cannot interfere with Ukraine. We will become part of Europe," said 30-year old economist Anton Rushailo, after voting in Kiev. "Sooner or later, we will join NATO, and today we are taking an important step in that direction."

Igor Seleznev, a retired 65-year old economist, said he cast his ballot for Opposition Bloc as he believed it was the only party willing to resist the emerging pro-reform consensus.

"For now, I see only change for the worse. Standard of life is getting worse, we are at war with Russia and there is economic chaos," Seleznev said.

In Volnovakha, a government-controlled town 60 kilometers (38 miles) south of the main rebel-held city of Donetsk, voting took place under heavy security.

"Nobody wants what is going on now," said Nadezhda Eshtokina, a retiree in Volnovakha. "I think everything will be good with time, and our grandchildren will live well and live like Europeans."


Associated Press reporter Mstyslav Chernov in Volnovakha, Ukraine, and Nataliya Vasilyeva in Donetsk, Ukraine, contributed to this report.


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