Yanukovich promises 35,000 'volunteers' for Kiev after poll


UKRAINE: Ukraine's prime minister, Mr Viktor Yanukovich, has raised the spectre of street violence in the aftermath of the December 26th rerun presidential election, promising to send an army of 35,000 "volunteers" to seize the streets of the capital writes Chris Stephen in Moscow.

Mr Yanukovich, who opinion polls say will lose to opposition leader Mr Viktor Yushchenko in the election, told an audience in Crimea, a government heartland, that these volunteers will prevent a "coup" taking place.

He reportedly said the groups of volunteers had come together spontaneously and would be heading for Kiev to "defend the constitution" in the event that the results of the St Stephen's Day poll go against him.

Most assume this will mean confronting the much larger numbers of opposition supporters if the vote count, as expected, gives victory to Mr Yushchenko.

His speech comes as he denied reports earlier this week that he had wanted to use armed troops against the opposition street protesters late last month.

The reports say Mr Yanukovich sent troops and interior ministry forces into Kiev ready to do battle when demonstrators, insisting the government had rigged the election, took over Central Kiev.

But the report, in Tuesday's Financial Times, said the current president, Mr Leonid Kuchma blocked the move.

"I only asked that order be restored," Interfax Ukraine news agency quoted Mr Yanukovich as saying. "There was no talk of bringing in troops. Rather it was about ensuring order properly and observing the Ukrainian constitution."

In fact, the question is one of semantics: Interior ministry troops were filmed being driven into the barracks around Kiev during the huge opposition protests last month.

At the time, army sources told The Irish Times that the government would have problems if it ordered the troops into action. First, while the generals might agree, many ordinary soldiers would refuse to open fire on civilians. Secondly, the Orange Revolution protests saw more than quarter of a million people in the streets, a number too high to break up easily.

Mr Yanukovich certainly tried to break up the rallies, bringing 4,000 miners armed with sticks and clubs to Kiev in late November and giving them a fiery speech urging them to "defend the constitution."

Why they were never sent into battle is unclear, though their numbers were dwarfed by the protesters.

Meanwhile, new medical tests on Mr Yushchenko have revealed that the level of dioxin poison in his body, which has caused facial disfigurement, is 6,000 times the normal dosage, not 1,000 times as first thought. The concentration was revealed by analysts in Amsterdam, who said they may be able to identify the specific dioxin responsible by the weekend.

There are many thousands of different dioxins which are found in very low levels in the human body, the result of pollutants and processed food.

Opposition supporters claim he was poisoned on government orders and hope that if the specific poison can be found, a match can be made with poisons kept by the secret service.