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Ukrainian Catholic leaders back opposition electoral fraud protests

Leaders of the Catholic Church in Ukraine have supported charges by the country's opposition that Sunday's election victory of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych is invalid because the process was fraudulent.

They also urged the government to avoid violence as hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians took to the streets of Western Ukraine to protest election results that declared pro-Russian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych the winner.

"When people take to the streets to defend their constitutional rights in a peaceful way, they are not a dark mass 'off the street.' These are brave people, self-sacrificing and responsible, who should be honoured and whose voice should be heard, for 'the voice of the people is the voice of God,'", said the synod of Ukrainian Catholic bishops in a statement released at a press conference on Tuesday.

The Eastern-rite church has some 3300 parishes, mostly in Western Ukraine, which largely voted for the pro-western opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko.

"So we turn to those in positions of power, entrusted with power by this same people, asking them not to give in to temptation during the resolution of this very difficult situation, not to use their standing, the means of force and law-enforcement structures for their own narrow interests against their own people," the bishops said.

They said that before the election, the church had urged citizens to vote for a "worthy candidate ... according to the voice of conscience."

The bishops said they were asking all Ukrainians to pray for the country at "this difficult and responsible moment."

Meanwhile Pope John Paul II said yesterday that he is praying for Ukrainians.

At his weekly general audience, the pope assured a group of Ukrainians present "and all the Ukrainian people that in these days I pray particularly for your beloved country."

A few dozen Ukrainians waving blue and yellow flags cheered enthusiastically at the pope's comments. On some of the flags hung a strip of orange cloth. Orange is the colour associated with supporters of the opposition leader. Some Ukrainians held a banner reading, "Yes, Yushchenko."

Ukrainian Catholic leaders back opposition, speak of electoral fraud (Catholic News Service 24/11/04)
At audience, pope says he prays for Ukrainians facing uncertainty (Catholic News Service 24/11/04)

Ukraine on brink of 'civil war' (BBC 24/11/04)
Europe pressures Ukraine on poll (CNN 24/11/04)
Papal prayers for Ukraine crisis (Catholic World News 24/11/04)
Pope in prayer for Ukraine (The Australian 25/11/04)

25 Nov 2004