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Ukraine elections held amid tensions over Georgian observers

By Mzia Kupunia
Monday, January 18
The Presidential Elections in Ukraine on Sunday were accompanied by tensions surrounding the Georgian observers who monitored them. The observers were only given the status of “volunteers” and “media representatives” rather than being treated as members of an official observer delegation, although late on January 16 the Kiev Supreme Administrative Court called on the Ukrainian Central Election Commission to register them as international observers, upholding a decision by the Kiev Administrative Court of Appeals. On January 13 the Court ruled that the decision of the Ukraine CEC not to register the 2,011 Georgian observers was unlawful.

Despite the court rulings the Ukraine Central Election Commission was still not able to take a final decision on the matter, allegedly due to lack of a quorum. Georgia’s Ambassador to Ukraine Grigol Katamadze demanded on January 17 that a criminal case be instituted against the Ukraine CEC members for failing to implement the Court's decision. Katamadze also called on the Ukraine CEC Chair to address the detention of several Georgian observers in the Donetsk region. Chairman of the Ukraine CEC Vladimir Shapoval denied the claims of the Georgian Ambassador, saying that the Supreme Administrative Court's decision was of a “recommendatory character”. He added that he would study the case of the detention of the Georgian observers and give an “appropriate order”.

The Ukrainian Interior Ministry made a special statement concerning the detention, in which three Georgians registered as non-staff journalists of Ukraine media outlets were arrested by the police, as Ukrainian news agency UNIAN reported. Speaking to the media, the head of the Interior Ministry's Public Security Department, Vladimir Mevsky, confirmed that the incident had taken place but added that the Ministry had sent a special telegram to election officials saying that “non staff” reporters, including foreign citizens, were entitled to be present at election precincts. The Georgian citizens were released.

The Georgian media also reported that two Imedi TV journalists, Zurab Khvistani and Irakli Gvaramadze, were assaulted in the Donetsk region on January 16. They were prevented from entering the election headquarters of one of the main Presidential candidates, Viktor Yanukovich, then watched by unidentified men for several hours and subsequently beaten up, according to Imedi TV.

Georgian observers were being removed from the election precincts in Donetsk because they are reporting vote rigging, acting Chairman of the Georgian CEC Levan Tarkhnishvili said, according to Interfax news agency. “After today’s events I have formed the opinion that all these falsifications and illegal actions in Donetsk in relation to the international observers are profitable for only one candidate, to one who controls the abovementioned region,” he said, referring to Viktor Yanukovich, head of the Party of the Regions. Tarkhnishvili claimed that the Georgian observers had noticed three cases of multiple voting in the Donetsk election precincts.

Outgoing President of Ukraine and candidate Viktor Yushchenko commented on the Georgian observers’ issue on January 17, UNIAN reported. He expressed his regret that “some political forces are trying to use the Georgian nation for ignoble purposes.” “I think there is a lot of cynicism, a lot of untrue things are being done, and unfortunately Ukraine has demonstrated not the best attitude,” he said. “I regret that Georgia and the Georgian nation are being used for manipulations in Ukraine. But this fact once more indicates who some of our leaders are and which direction they are leaning in,” he added.

Viktor Yanukovich called on the Georgian President to recall the Georgian observers. “Other states interfering in our internal political processes is inadmissible,” he said. “I also call on President Yushchenko to fulfil his constitutional obligation to defend the rights of the voters and the Ukraine Constitution, so that at least during the elections our citizens feel that there is order in the country,” Yanukovich stated.

Earlier on Friday the Georgian side had described the non-registration of the Georgian monitors as a “politically motivated” decision. “It shows that one of the sides is not interested in holding democratic and fair elections in Ukraine,” Levan Tarkhnishvili said. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili commented through a spokesperson that Georgia is not planning to support any of the Presidential candidates in Ukraine. The President’s press speaker Manana Manjgaladze said on January 15 that “Our only wish is to see a strong and democratic Ukraine. Supporting any of the particular sides is unacceptable and excluded,” she said.

The Ukraine media released an audio tape of what it said was a phone conversation between Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and Prime Minister of Ukraine and Presidential candidate Yulia Tymoshenko. The latter promised to help gain the Georgian observers official status, according to RIA Novosti. “In this case we will be very open and flexible,” Saakashvili told her, according to the Ukraine media “We are determined to help Ukraine,” he added.

18 candidates stood in the Ukrainian Presidential Elections, the three main ones being the incumbent President Viktor Yushchenko, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and leader of the influential opposition Party of the Regions Viktor Yanukovich. According to the Ukraine CEC the electorate was 36,576,763, of which around 40% had voted by 3 pm Kiev time. 3,149 officially registered international observers monitored the elections. If no candidate reaches the required vote threshold a second ballot between the two leading candidates will be held on February 7.