Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, who is facing a rerun of a presidential election he was officially declared to have won, leveled an emotional attack yesterday against President...
KIEV, Ukraine Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, who is facing a rerun of a presidential election he was officially declared to have won, leveled an emotional attack yesterday against President Leonid Kuchma and unnamed senior government officials he said had supported him, then sold him out.
“I’m very disappointed,” Yanukovych said. “I believed in those who betrayed me, those cowards. … I trusted these liars and traitors with whom I worked in the government. I had to struggle not only against the opposition but people in the government.”
In his first question-and-answer session with reporters since parliament wrote new electoral laws for fresh elections Dec. 26, Yanukovych appeared tired and angry. At times he seemed resigned to defeat.
Yanukovych ran for president with the support of Kuchma and informal backing from neighboring Russia. Ukraine’s Central Elections Commission declared him winner of the Nov. 21 vote, but in the face of huge street demonstrations alleging electoral fraud, as well as an adverse legal decision, Kuchma agreed to hold a new vote.
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“I’d like society to understand what kind of future they’re going to have under the people who declared they were going to have power under this orange putsch,” Yanukovych said in the capital, referring to the color adopted by the campaign of his opponent, Viktor Yushchenko. “If this is the way people want to live in this country, they have to decide on the 26th of December.”
Yanukovych implied that Kuchma, by agreeing to a new election and sanctioning the creation of a new elections commission, among other reforms, had badly undermined his position. “Today, we don’t have a president you saw what he did during the orange putsch,” he said, charging that Kuchma had failed to assert his authority and end the demonstrations.
Yanukovych said the mass demonstrations in Kiev’s Independence Square, as well as judicial and parliamentary decisions that sanctioned a new election under new rules, amounted to a coup d’état. The replacement laws, he added, were stacked to defeat him.
The prime minister refused to identify the people he felt had abandoned him. When pressed to identify them, he said, “People know their names.”
“I have never been a coward or a betrayer in my life,” he said. “I think it’s the greatest sin. For those who did it, let them be responsible in front of God.”
Officials in his campaign said he was referring to Kuchma and was smarting from the decisions of close associates to leave him just as he faced a new election. His campaign manager and the lawyer who defended his official victory before the country’s Supreme Court jumped ship. Yanukovych’s supporters said he now planned to make a virtue of his break with Kuchma.
“The prime minister can now show his real self, which we didn’t manage to do in the last campaign,” said Hanna Stetsiv-Herman, a spokeswoman for the Yanukovych campaign. “We are going to say and do things that we didn’t do before.”
Yanukovych also warned that supporters in eastern and southern Ukraine might launch their own campaign of civil resistance should he lose.
“The vote results won’t be fair,” Yanukovych said. “If they call that a fair election, then they will receive a reaction from eastern and southern Ukraine that they won’t be able to cope with.”
The United States has a vital interest in the election. Yushchenko’s battle against Yanukovych, who is closely aligned with Russian President Vladimir Putin, is seen as an effort to pull his nation out of Russia’s shadow and realign with the West.
Moscow considers Ukraine an important part of its sphere of influence and a buffer against NATO’s eastern flank.
In a separate news conference, Yushchenko said he expected to release conclusive results soon on the cause of the illness that has disfigured his face and forced him off the campaign trail for more than three weeks this fall. Yushchenko later arrived at a clinic in Vienna for further tests. He described the illness as the result of a poisoning intended to kill him.