Pro-Russian candidate Viktor Yanukovich is winning Ukraine's presidential contest, but rival claims foul.
Ukraine's "orange opposition" was gearing up to contest the result of a bitterly fought presidential election after officials announced Monday that establishment candidate Viktor Yanukovich had all but secured victory over his rival.
As international observers cast doubt over the validity of the results, protesters began pitching tents in central Kiev for what many feared could be a long standoff with authorities.
With more than 99 percent of the ballots counted, Mr. Yanukovich had 49.4 percent of the vote compared with 46.7 percent for the opposition leader, Viktor Yushchenko.
The two men may have confusingly similar names, but their politics could not be more different.
Mr. Yushchenko, the first round winner by a fraction, sees Ukraine's future largely with the West, while Yanukovich would lead his country into Russia's embrace.
Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said the election failed to meet international standards.
"I can only express my disappointment at the way these elections were conducted, including media bias and the abuse of state resources," NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said.
"It is now apparent that a concerted and forceful program of election-day fraud and abuse was enacted with either the leadership or cooperation of governmental authorities," said US Sen. Richard Lugar, who was sent to Kiev as President Bush's envoy.
Nikolai Petrov, an analyst with Moscow's Carnegie Center for International Peace, said he could not rule out the risk of violence at a local level although he hoped there would be no large-scale unrest.
Yushchenko, whose supporters have chosen the color orange for their campaign against the powers that be, complained of numerous violations of electoral procedure and "total falsification" in two regions, Donetsk and Lugansk.