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Europe

Ukraine Top Court Decides on Election

Ukraine's supreme court will convene Monday to hear an opposition appeal that the presidential election was rigged in favor of pro-Moscow Premier Viktor Yanukovych, amid threats that the country could split in two.

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Yushchenko (left) and Yanukovych (center) met on Friday

The court hearings were scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. local time (9 a.m. UTC), but there was no guarantee that it would rule on the issue on Monday.

As many as 40 of the court's 100 judges could sit in on the hearings, according to Reuters news service. Their names will be kept secret until the last minute to prevent outside pressure.

The court could either decide to order lower courts to examine individual cases of alleged voter fraud or look at the election as a whole. Legal experts said they believe a court ruling will unlikely satisfy either side.

"There are so many options, so many nuances that implementing one of the court's rulings might prove extremely difficult," Mykola Melnyk of the Supreme Council of Justice that oversees Ukraine's court system, told Reuters. "A ruling could even complicate attempts to resolve the conflict."

Opposition keeps up pressure

Tens of thousands of demonstrators meanwhile were expected to swarm around the court building after Yulia Timoshenko (photo), a close ally of opposition presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko, called them to turn out to "not put pressure on it, but support honest judges."

Machtkampf in Ukraine geht weiter- Panoramaformat

Yulia Timoshenko places carnations into shields as riot police guard the Ukrainian presidential administration building in Kiev

Kiev has been awash in orange opposition banners since the Nov. 21 election, which the opposition claims was stolen from their pro-Western leader Yushchenko by massive ballot fraud.

Their claim has been backed on Saturday by parliament which decided, in a non-binding resolution, that the vote was invalid due to the widespread irregularities.

German observers in Ukraine said the parliament's decision was an important step.

"People have made it clear that they want democratic elections," Katrin Göring-Eckardt, parliamentary leader of Germany's Greens, told DW-RADIO. During a demonstration, Göring-Eckardt said Germany would support democratization efforts and would carefully watch developments in the future.

Demands for more autonomy

As the position of Yanukovych, the declared winner, has weakened in the face of Yushchenko's "orange revolution," pro-Russia regions in the east and the south that support Yanukovych have begun to step up their demands for autonomy.

The regional leaders then said they would hold a vote on "self-defense" -- a euphemism for autonomy -- should Yushchenko come to power, and reserved the right to call for a Dec. 12 referendum on their regions' territorial status in case Yanukovych was ruled to have lost the vote, the Interfax news agency reported.

The strategic coal-mining region of Donetsk became the first region to set an autonomy vote by scheduling a Dec. 5 referendum on whether to proclaim itself a "republic," which would give it greater autonomy than a region.

Opposition demands punishment

Meanwhile in Kiev, Yushchenko told his followers that the Russian-speaking regions allied with Moscow had to be punished for threatening to break off.

Ukraine Viktor Juschtschenko mit Lech Walesa

Former Polish President Lech Walesa (left) and Viktor Yushchenko during a demonstration last week

"We demand the opening of a criminal inquiry against the separatist governors," Yushchenko, wearing an opposition orange scarf to protect himself from the freezing cold, told the orange flag-waving masses below him.

Later Timoshenko called on outgoing President Leonid Kuchma to sack Yanukovych and governors of separtist regions.

"We give him 24 hours to do that," she said. The supreme court, which has previously shown its independence from the government, could annul the elections, order a partial or full recount, or reject the appeal.

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