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European eyes focused on Ukraine ahead of election

As Ukrainians go to the polls to elect a new parliament on Sunday, European politicians will be watching with particular interest. Observers expect the government to retain its majority.

Germany's foreign minister used a newspaper interview stress the importance of Sunday's election for Ukraine's image abroad.

"Along with the observers on the ground, we will be examining this election very carefully," Guido Westerwelle told the Saturday edition of the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung. "Kyiv is aware of the fact that we are not satisfied with the state of the rule of law in Ukraine."

A German parliamentarian, meanwhile, has raised fresh concerns about how Ukraine's election will be conducted.

Viola von Cramon of the Green Party, who is in Kyiv as part of a team of Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said she had been told of cases in which opposition candidates were subjected to "massive" pressure.

Speaking in an interview with German public radio station Deutschlandradio Kultur on Saturday, Von Cramon said the biggest problem was in 44 constituencies, where the outcome of Sunday's vote wasn't clear. In some cases, she said, some candidates had bowed to the pressure and pulled out of the race.

Von Cramon also expressed concerns about Ukraine's elections commission, which she said was almost completely controlled by members of the governing party or its allies.

The European Union, which put an association agreement with Ukraine on hold following the conviction of opposition figure Yulia Tymoshenko for abuse of office last year, has also expressed its concerns.

"The elections this coming Sunday are a litmus test of Ukraine's democratic credentials," Maja Kocijancic, a spokesperson for the EU's foreign policy coordinator, Catherine Ashton told reporters in Brussels on Friday.

"Trials which did not respect international standards are preventing the key opposition representatives from standing in the parliamentary elections. This will of course play into our assessment of how the elections will take place," Kocijancic added.

pfd/kms (dpa, dapd, AFP)