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RUNOFF ELECTION IN UKRAINE LIKELY BETWEEN PRESIDENT, EX-PREMIER

SHARE RUNOFF ELECTION IN UKRAINE LIKELY BETWEEN PRESIDENT, EX-PREMIER

Preliminary results released Monday in Ukraine's first post-Soviet presidential elections showed the incumbent President Leonid Kravchuk and the former Prime Minister Leonid Kuchma roughly tied for first place and likely to compete in a runoff vote.

According to the Interfax news agency, each contender gathered an overwhelming majority of the popular vote in opposite corners of the country, reflecting a deep divide between fervently nationalist western Ukrainians and their mainly Russian-speaking eastern and southern counterparts.In the Western provinces, Kravchuk, seen as a guarantor of Ukrainian independence, grabbed most of the popular vote. In Ternopil province 82 percent of the population voted for him and in Rivne 70 percent.

Kuchma, whose campaign platform revolved around joining an economic union with Russia, gained the support of the eastern industrial regions and the independence-minded Crimean peninsula. An overwhelming 82.5 percent of Crimeans voted for him, leaving Kravchuk with only 7 percent of the province's vote.

Sixty-eight percent of the country's voters took part in the election, according to the Interfax news agency.

There were no official results available from the Central Electoral Commission, which was still counting votes Monday.

But the Rukh opposition party, which compiled its own unofficial results, said Kravchuk had won about 40 percent of the vote and was leading in 17 provinces, while Kuchma had garnered up to 35 percent and was ahead in nine. If true, it confirms that neither of the front-runners won an absolute majority in the poll and a second round of voting will take place.

The results also showed that the remaining five candidates gained only a small number of votes and failed to win a commanding lead in any of the country's provinces.

One big surprise was the poor showing by Oleksandr Moroz, the powerful speaker of the Ukrainian Parliament and former Socialist Party leader, who won less than 10 percent of the vote, according to Rukh.

"These figures show a catastrophe for the communists," said Rukh leader Vyachslav Chornovil.

Spokesmen for both Kravchuk and Kuchma said a run-off would probably take place July 10.