Ukraine opposition in 'terror tactics' claim

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Ukraine's main opposition bloc accused the government of using terror tactics against its political opponents yesterday during campaigning for the presidential election this month.

Ukraine's main opposition bloc accused the government of using terror tactics against its political opponents yesterday during campaigning for the presidential election this month.

The build-up to the election, which could decide whether the country charts a course towards the EU or follows the authoritarian route of Belarus, has been poisoned by dirty tricks, with both sides accusing each other of intimidation.

The administration of the Prime Minister, Viktor Yanukovych, who has the backing of the incumbent President, Leonid Kuchma, for his candidacy, points to police discoveries of explosives caches to accuse the opposition of planning violence.

Supporters of the Western-leaning leader of the Our Ukraine opposition coalition, Viktor Yushchenko, have been joined by human rights groups in accusing the government of rampant corruption, abuses of press freedom, murder and arms dealing to rogue states in contravention of UN sanctions.

Many senior members of the administration fear they may be prosecuted if they lose power.

Ukraine, with a population of 48 million, is Europe's second largest country in territorial terms after Russia. It is also the essential component in the Russian President Vladimir Putin's plans to rebuild Moscow's might around an eastern common market bloc called the Single Economic Zone.

Mr Yanukovych is pro-Russian and enthusiastic about the Moscow-led economic union, while Mr Yushchenko is a western-leaning advocate of entry into the EU and Nato. The latest opinion polls show them running neck and neck.

The opposition has accused the government of dirty tricks throughout the campaign but in recent days events have taken a sinister turn with a spate of explosions in the capital, Kiev, and other cities. So far nobody has been hurt. The government has attributed the blasts to Mr Yushchenko's supporters.

Last Friday police claimed to have found grenades and dynamite at the headquarters in Kiev of the opposition activist group Pora, or The Time. On Wednesday, a Yushchenko activist was arrested after police said they found explosives in his car. The government has warned of the danger of civil war, and the capital's mayor yesterday talked of declaring a state of emergency.

The opposition says the explosives have been planted. The MP Yuriy Kostenko said: "The opposition has no interest in violence and of course we're not involved in explosives or weapons. The government is behind this because they want to create an atmosphere of fear. Or they can use it as a pretext to declare a state of emergency and postpone or cancel the election."

The opposition complained that violent methods were being deployed against them. This month a lorry containing opposition election literature was stopped by police and forced to a car park, where the papers were burnt.

Mr Yanukovych's campaign co-ordinator, Stepan Havrysh, said the opposition had committed more than 1,600 breaches of electoral campaign laws.

The opposition has called for a mass protest in Kiev tomorrow.

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