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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kiev Poll Upsets Kravchuk's Plans

KIEV -- Parliamentary elections and regional referendums in Ukraine highlighted a growing rift between the nationalist west and pro-Russian east and returned President Leonid Kravchuk's main rivals for power, early results showed Monday.

The vote, with a surprisingly high turnout of 80 percent, returned a mix of centrists, Communists and nationalists.

Voters in the eastern city of Donetsk and the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea also backed closer links with Russia and devolution of powers in separate polls, held despite a presidential ban.

Communists made a strong showing in the east, winning 14 of the 48 seats decided in the first round. Moderate nationalists of the Rukh party did well in the center and west. Two extreme nationalists won seats and three more were well placed to enter parliament in the second round on April 10.

The outcome was unlikely to please Kravchuk. He said before the vote that he would seek more powers if a poor turnout and Ukraine's bizarre electoral law produced a parliament with one-third of its seats empty.

The election took place amid growing economic despair, with living standards falling rapidly and incomes eaten up by hyperinflation.

The current parliament is dominated by former Communists opposed to economic reform and relinquishing the nuclear arsenal the country inherited from the Soviet Union.

In addition to parliamentary elections, voters in Crimea, Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, and the Lugansk region on the Russian border, participated in plebiscites on closer ties with Russia.

More than half of the eligible voters in Crimea went to the polls, and between 70 and 90 percent of voters backed a proposal for strengthened regional powers.

The collapse of Ukraine's economy has prompted Crimea and eastern Ukraine to seek closer ties with more prosperous Russia. In a symbolic gesture, Crimea this weekend moved its clocks ahead and went on Moscow time.

In Donetsk, another region populated mainly by Russian-speakers, the local referendum on closer ties with Russia and to make Russian an official language alongside Ukrainian passed with over 90 percent of the vote, said Diana Rassokhina, a senior official with the region's governing council. She said turnout was 72 percent.

"We live two years on the basis of western Ukraine's ideology," said Yury Boldyrev, deputy mayor of Donetsk. "Now it is time to implement the wishes of the citizens of eastern Ukraine."

Among those elected outright in the first round with at least 50 percent of the vote was the man most likely to challenge Kravchuk's hold on power, his former prime minister, Leonid Kuchma.

Kuchma, who describes Kravchuk's administration as "dangerous for Ukraine and its people," won 91 percent of the vote in Chernihiv district near the Russian border.

Ivan Plyushch, parliament's outgoing chairman, and prominent opposition figure, Rukh leader Vyacheslav Chornovil, were also returned.

(Reuters, AP)