Ukraine braces for more protests


Ukrainian opposition leader Victor Yushchenko has called for a second day of mass protests over the outcome of Sunday's disputed presidential poll. He accuses the authorities of rigging the election in favour of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.

Protesters have been urged to gather outside parliament, which is due to discuss the crisis later on Tuesday.

The central security authorities have warned that they are ready to put down any lawlessness "quickly and firmly".

Officials in several Ukrainian cities have refused to accept the outcome of the election, and Mr Yushchenko has told supporters to stage a civil disobedience campaign.

The central electoral commission has proclaimed Mr Yanukovych the winner, with 49.4% to Mr Yushchenko's 46.7%.

But the opposition says it has recorded many thousands of irregularities - including very high turnouts in government strongholds.

Tent city

Several hundred people stage a noisy vigil on the streets of Kiev late into the night despite the bitter cold, shouting "Yushchenko" into loudhailers.

ELECTION RIVALS Viktor Yanukovych: Aged 54 Imprisoned twice in his youth Former governor of industrial Donetsk region Raised pensions and public sector pay before election Would make Russian second official language and allow dual citizenship Viktor Yushchenko: Aged 50 An economist and former central banker Has an American wife Promises to fight corruption, create five million jobs and pursue free market reforms Would seek deeper relations with Europe and the West

They erected tents and built a fence around them amid rumours that police would try to break up the demonstration in the early hours.

Tens of thousands are expected to flood central Kiev for a second day.

The US state department said it was "deeply concerned" about the election and threatened to review its relations with Ukraine if the government failed to investigate the allegations of election fraud.

Mr Yushchenko, seen as the pro-Western candidate, earlier told his supporters in the capital not to leave their rally "until victory".

"We are launching an organised movement of civil resistance," he said, denouncing what he called the "total falsification" of the vote, which followed days of acrimonious wrangling over the results of the first round.

Kiev city council refused to recognise the results, and urged parliament to follow suit.

Thousands of people also turned onto the streets in the western city of Lviv, where the city council said it would only take orders from Mr Yushchenko.

Three other cities in opposition strongholds in western Ukraine have said they considered the opposition candidate the legal president.

Mr Yanukovych, however, has criticised the call for public protests and said a "small group of radicals" was trying to split the country.

'Concerted' fraud

Observers for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said Sunday's run-off vote fell far short of European democratic norms.

The organisation, which also reported serious irregularities in the first round, said violations included a continuing "media bias" in favour of Mr Yanukovych and intimidation of observers and voters. The US' official observer, Senator Richard Lugar, alleged "concerted and forceful" fraud and the EU called on Ukraine to review the election.

However, Moscow, which backed Prime Minister Yanukovych, recognised the result.

During the campaign, Mr Yushchenko, prime minister between 1999 and 2001, claimed to have been the victim of intimidation and dirty tricks, including an alleged poisoning attempt.

His critics portray him as an American puppet who will do anything to gain power, including inciting civil unrest.