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May 23, 2017

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Ukraine faces global backlash over disputed poll

KIEV--Ukraine faced a global backlash Tuesday over elections won by the ruling party that the West called a step backwards for democracy and saw jailed ex-Premier Yulia Tymoshenko launch a protest hunger strike.

The United States joined Western observers of Sunday's ballot in calling the vote a "step backwards" for the ex-Soviet nation and further isolating the increasingly controversial President Viktor Yanukovych.

Yanukovych's Regions Party was set to win the polls against Tymoshenko's opposition bloc and the UDAR (Punch) group of boxer Vitali Klitschko, with some predicting it would have a thin overall majority in the new parliament.

Results based on 90.6 percent of the precincts reporting showed the Regions Party collecting 31.4 percent of the ballot and Tymoshenko's alliance registering 24.6 percent.

The Communist Party and UDAR were almost tied on 13.7 and 13.5 percent of the vote respectively, while the nationalist Svoboda (Freedom) group, loosely allied with Tymoshenko, would also make it into the chamber with 9.8 percent.

But the opposition pointed to independent exit polls that had showed Tymoshenko's bloc only trailing the Regions Party by about four percentage points.

"These elections were falsified from start to finish," Tymoshenko said in a statement read by her lawyer Sergiy Vlasenko late on Monday.

The fiery 2004 Orange Revolution leader and former premier — sentenced to seven years on abuse of power charges she views as the president's personal vendetta — said she would go on hunger strike "until the true results are established."

The final composition of the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada will be determined half by the proportional vote and half by first-past-the-post results in single mandate constituencies where the Regions Party has polled especially well.

In the single mandate count, the Regions Party was set to win seats for 117 constituencies, the Tymoshenko bloc 43 seats, Svoboda 10 and UDAR five.

The other seats are set to go to marginal parties and independents, many of whom analysts believe will turn out to be loyal to the Regions Party and give it an overall majority in the new parliament.

"We expect these results to hold," Prime Minister Mykola Azarov told reporters. "This means that the Regions Party has scored a resounding victory."

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