We were told to fix Ukraine election, say police chiefs

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The Independent Online

Senior police officers say they have been ordered to help rig the result of the Ukrainian presidential election and to use violence, including bombings, to undermine the opposition.

Senior police officers say they have been ordered to help rig the result of the Ukrainian presidential election and to use violence, including bombings, to undermine the opposition.

The second, decisive, round of the presidential election is to be held next Sunday when the two candidates, the pro-Western opposition leader, Viktor Yushchenko, who gained the biggest share of the vote in the first round on 31 October, and the pro-Russian Prime Minister, Viktor Yanukovych, face each other in a run-off.

Foreign election monitors blamed the government for dirty tricks before and during the first round. The opposition expects widespread attempts to distort results of the final round.

Officers from the eastern city of Kharkiv, disgusted that their service was being used to undermine the election, wrote to the speaker of the parliament, Volodymyr Lytvyn, detailing massive election fraud by the government and warning that similar methods were going to be used next Sunday.

They agreed to speak with The Independent on condition of anonymity. The meeting happened at night in a park after they took elaborate precautions worthy of a John Le Carré novel to ensure privacy.

The five men, aged between their late twenties and early fifties, held Ministry of Internal Affairs identity cards. Some covered over their names but revealed their photos, while two showed the entire card, complete with names. Their ranks ranged between full colonel and under-colonel. When asked what the consequences would be for them if their identities were revealed, the officers made gestures showing they would be shot.

The colonel said that police had guarded a room in a local authority building where about 500,000 ballots, pre-marked for Mr Yanukovych, were kept hidden before the first round and organised their dispersal on voting day among local polling stations.

The Ukrainian Central Election Commission was forced to admit that tens of thousands more votes had been cast in the first round than there were genuine ballot papers.

The men also said a special police undercover unit had been formed to intimidate opposition workers and destroy campaign materials. They said the group planted a bomb in a Yushchenko campaign office and another in the car of an opposition activist, Yuriy Potykun, who was then stopped and arrested by uniformed police.

The colonel said a group of about 100 common criminals have been paid to masquerade at Yushchenko rallies as supporters of the opposition candidate, to cause trouble and give the opposition a bad name.

The police did not disguise their contempt for Mr Yanu-kovych, who has twice been imprisoned for assault. They claim he was charged with two other serious crimes but he avoided prosecution both times through bribery.

A spokeswoman for the interior ministry of the Kharkiv region, Larysa Volkova, said the allegations were lies. She said the officers would be "guaranteed safety if they have the courage to give their names".

The sources said they would identify themselves if Mr Yush-chenko won. "We have a lot of documents which mean jail for not only the general in command of the Kharkiv region but for many other officials."

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