Two million votes at risk in Ukraine

2014-05-17 18:35
(Nicholas Kamm, AFP)

(Nicholas Kamm, AFP)

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Kiev - Almost two million people in eastern Ukraine could be prevented from voting in the presidential election if the government fails to ensure security in rebel areas, the country's election body warned on Saturday.

The Central Election Commission said it could be impossible to organise the May 25 vote in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Lugansk, where pro-Russian insurgents fighting Kiev's rule have declared their own independent republics.

"With the information we have to hand at the moment, we cannot organise preparations for the vote because of illegal actions by unknown people," the commission said in a statement, referring to the separatists.

The commission cited cases of "threats and physical pressure" against local election officials and said there were a number of offices where the security of its staff could not be assured.

The commission complained that local police and security forces had failed to act and called on interim President Oleksandr Turchynov to take measures to ensure security at polling stations on election day.

Almost two million voters are registered in the Lugansk and Donetsk regions, according to an AFP tally of commission figures.

In total, 36 million Ukrainians are eligible to vote in the May 25 poll, seen in the West as crucial if the country is able to claw its way out of the escalating crisis on Europe's eastern flank.

The election was called by the new leaders installed in Kiev after months of sometimes deadly pro-EU protests led to the February ouster of Kremlin-backed president Viktor Yanukovych.

Pro-Russians in the east took up arms against central government rule in April, branding those who took power ultra-nationalists and neo-fascists.

The rebels declared sovereignty in Donetsk and Lugansk after claiming victory in May 11 independence referendums rejected as illegitimate by Kiev and the West.

An opinion poll this week found that only a third of voters in the east were planning to cast their ballots in the election, widely expected to be won by billionaire chocolate baron Petro Poroshenko.

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