Row over Georgian 'observers' inflames Ukraine vote
The presence of hundreds of Georgians in Ukraine purportedly to monitor elections spiralled into a major row Sunday after a party accused them of being special forces sent to disrupt the polls.world Updated: Jan 17, 2010 23:57 IST
The presence of hundreds of Georgians in Ukraine purportedly to monitor elections spiralled into a major row Sunday after a party accused them of being special forces sent to disrupt the polls.
The Regions Party of presidential frontrunner Viktor Yanukovich has protested vehemently over the sudden arrival of hundreds of Georgian men "built like sportsmen" in the eastern city of Donetsk over the last days.
Tbilisi insists they are observers who Ukraine refused to accredit but the Donetsk authorities have said there is evidence they were sent to carry out fraud on behalf of Yanukovich's main rival, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
"All these people have corresponding training not in line with the duties of international observers in elections," Regions Party MP Vladislav Lukyanov said in a statement released by Regions Party headquarters.
"These are fighters specialised in carrying out special actions aimed at destabilising elections."
Yanukovich himself meanwhile appealed to Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili to withdraw the "so-called" observers.
"It is unacceptable that a foreign state interferes in the affairs of our country," he said.
Regional Donetsk media have carried angry reports of the Georgians hassling women in the streets, behaving in a drunken manner and observing voting while insisting they were tourists.
The head of Donetsk city council Nikolai Levchenko said they were all men aged between 25-45 and "built like sportsmen."
He said that almost 400 Georgians had arrived in the city, mainly on charter flights to its airport, ahead of the vote and had not even described themselves as observers on arrival.
Local media said some of the men had explained at the airport they had arrived to meet Donetsk women they had contacted on social networking sites over the New Year.
But Georgian foreign ministry spokeswoman Ia Makharashvili insisted that the "250-300" observers sent by Georgia were "exclusively representatives of civil society, NGOs and civil servants."
"It is incomprehensible why such a noise has been created around the Georgian observers, including in mass media and by some political forces," she added.
Georgian interior ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili said there were no staff members from the interior or defence ministries amongst the observers in Ukraine.
The Ukrainian central election commission said that Georgia had been seeking to accredit over 2,000 observers but they had not been registered due to problems with their documents.
A total of 3,149 observers from around the world have been accredited for the vote
Election fraud in Ukraine remains a major issue after the supreme court ordered a re-run of the last presidential elections in 2004 after discovering mass vote-rigging in favour of Yanukovich.
Donetsk, a heavy industry and mining region, is a political stronghold of Yanukovich but analysts have said it will be crucial for Tymoshenko to win votes here if she is to make a serious challenge for the presidency.
Pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko vehemently backed Georgia in its August 2008 war against Russia much to the annoyance of Yanukovich, who is more sympathetic to the Kremlin.