Ukraine voters choose past or future-president

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KIEV, Sep 30 (Reuters) President Viktor Yushchenko said tomorrow's parliamentary election offered a choice between Ukraine's future and its infected past, and he urged voters to back his ''orange'' allies.

Yushchenko, swept to power by the 2004 ''Orange Revolution'', has rejoined forces with the heroine of those protests, Yulia Tymoshenko.

But, with his powers reduced, the president has been locked in a long struggle for power with Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, the man he defeated in the aftermath of the mass rallies against poll fraud.

''I believe the essence of the election is very simple,'' Yushchenko said in a televised appeal on the eve of the contest.

''Either you vote for changes in your lives or you vote to bring back the past and those who have divided us and infected the very body of our nation.'' Ukrainians were ''capable of distinguishing between truth and lies. We can and must live according to the same just laws ...

''Enough chaos, stagnation and imitation reforms. We need deep, fundamental change that everyone can feel,'' he said Yushchenko called the election after dissolving parliament and accusing Yanukovich of making an illegal grab for power.

The prime minister has rebounded from defeat in 2004 and presided over strong economic growth. He says a vote for his Regions Party means stability and a rout of the ''orange hordes''.

Polling stations will open from 7 a.m. (0400 GMT) to 10 pm (1900 GMT). Exit polls will be made public immediately after with official results available from Monday morning.

The election is certain to produce a close finish. Long negotiations to form a majority in the 450-seat assembly and then a stable government will follow.

Few new ideas were broached in a campaign dominated by accusations and name-calling. The idea of orientation to the West or Russia, critical in the 2004 campaign, has been replaced by calls to improve the lot of Ukrainians earning a monthly average wage of 0.

VOTER DISILLUSION Voters are heading to polling stations for the third time in as many years and many are disillusioned.

''People don't change just like that,'' said Oksana Tseatsura, a photographer strolling on Independence Square, focal point of the 2004 rallies. ''You cannot change the psychology of people. I don't see much future here.'' The premier's Regions Party, its power base in the industrial Russian-speaking east, leads opinion polls with 30 percent support. His communist allies are also likely to win seats.

But the combined support of ''orange'' groups, Tymoshenko's bloc followed by the pro-presidential Our Ukraine party, puts them close behind. Both draw support in the nationalist west, and in Kiev and central Ukraine.

Looking fitter than ever since being poisoned with dioxin in 2004, the president this week embraced Tymoshenko, sacked as prime minister of his first government. That made it plain she could again become premier if voters back an ''orange'' majority.

With 20 groups on the ballot, none of the other parties appears likely to clear the 3 percent barrier to win seats.

The president took office in early 2005 after the mass ''orange'' protests helped overturn a rigged presidential poll initially won by Yanukovich, backed at the time by Russia.

Each side accuses the other of plotting to cheat in this election. Yushchenko has promised it will be free and fair.

A large contingent of monitors will oversee the vote, including 700 from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Europe's main security watchdog.

A group of Canadian monitors said they were harassed and threatened on Friday after investigating irregularities in ballot papers and voting lists in the eastern town of Mariupol.

Gerard Kennedy, former education minister in the province of Ontario, said officials briefly seized the group's passports.

''Essentially, they said we were provocateurs and that we were there to disrupt the election,'' he said in an interview.

Reuters MP VP0200

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