Ukraine prepared for a new presidential vote Saturday after the country's Supreme Court annulled the disputed presidential election. Prime Minster Viktor Yanukovych will stay in the race, according to a spokeswoman.
Jubilation on the streets of Kiev
Ukraine's bitterly disputed runoff poll may have polarized the country and sent long-faded Cold War-era shadows back to the world stage, but the capital Kiev was in the mood for a party on Friday night as opposition supporters celebrated on the streets what they see as a victory for their candidate, Viktor Yushchenko.
The central election commission and parliament were due to meet later on Saturday to discuss logistics of the new election after the high court stripped the ruling party's candidate, Viktor Yanukovych, of victory in the contested November 21 poll.
In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court agreed with an appeal by opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko that results from that poll should be annulled because of widespread fraud.
Anatoly Yarema, presiding judge of Ukraine's Supreme Court
"We order the central election commission to set a date for a new runoff vote ... from December 5, 2004 in accordance with the law," the Chief Justice Anatoly Yarema (photo) announced.
"The court decision is final and cannot be appealed," he said, reading from the ruling.
Opposition officials said the vote would likely take place on December 26. The election commission is expected to set the date for the new election within days, which parliament must then approve and outgoing President Leonid Kuchma must sign.
On Saturday, a spokeswoman for Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, Anna German, told reporters he will be a candidate in a new run-off election.
"He is convinced he will win the second time as he won the
first time since 15 million Ukrainians stand behind him," she
The reaction of the pro-West opposition to the court's decision was quick and deafening. Kiev's central Independence Square erupted into cheers from hundreds of thousands of opposition supporters who have massed there round-the-clock for nearly two weeks.
"Yu-shchen-ko! Yu-shchen-ko!" the crowd chanted.
When opposition leaders read off the names of the 21 Supreme Court justices who handed down the historic ruling, the square greeted each with a deafening roar. "Way to go! Way to go!"
The hero of the hour hailed his supporters shortly after.
"The decision was taken thanks to you, you are heroes," Yushchenko told a veritable sea of supporters clad in the orange color of his campaign. In the center of the capital, a boisterous party erupted after Yushchenko told backers the court ruling had been a victory for their "orange revolution."
"Ukraine is henceforth a true democratic state," he said in Kiev's Independence Square, where supporters have thronged for the past 12 days.
"We're going to have awesome fireworks tomorrow," he promised.
The contested vote had split this former Soviet republic of 48 million in half and resonated on the world stage, too, as Russia backed Yanukovych and the United States and the European Union supported Yushchenko's claims.
European heavyweights like Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana traveled twice to Kiev to mediate tense negotiations between the opposition and the ruling regime during the nearly two-week standoff.
Washington and Brussels immediately welcomed the court ruling Friday.
"The court's decision is an important step in moving toward a peaceful, democratic resolution that reflects the will of the people," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.
"I welcome this independent decision ... which opens the way for a repeat of the second round of the election that can fully reflect the will of the Ukrainian people," said EU external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner.
As of early Saturday, Russia had yet to issue a comment on the ruling. Several pro-Russian, Russian-speaking parts of eastern and southern Ukraine where support for Yanukovych was strongest have threatened to seek greater autonomy should Yushchenko be installed as Ukraine's next president.