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25 Jan, 2010 14:08

Troops called in after ballot plant raid in Ukraine

A Ukrainian printing plant responsible for printing ballots for the second presidential run-off in the country was raided on Sunday night. The plant will now be guarded by Interior Ministry troops.

The conflict over the plant “Ukraina” in Kiev has spurred a major political scandal involving both presidential candidates and could potentially derail the second round of elections.

Although the nighttime raid involved dozens of people, it is still not clear what exactly happened in the building.

Viktor Yanukovich’s Party of Regions said that the events were an attempt to force the current management of the plant from their offices. The new acting director appointed by Yulia Timoshenko’s government brought security personnel with him, and they clashed with the plant’s own security. The fighting was finally stopped by police, who detained at least 22 participants.

At a media briefing where journalists were shown footage of the brawl in the plant’s lobby, the party members said they were informed about the upcoming raid in advance. Several deputies from the party went there with their guards and aides to stop what they called an illegal seizure of the strategic plant.

Earlier on Friday, the Party of Regions alleged that Timoshenko’s team changed the plant’s management in order to print 1.5 million extra ballots, which would later be used to rig the election. They pledged to prevent this from happening.

“Timoshenko’s policy is aimed at destabilizing the situation, at election fraud, at election disruption. The raid is confirmation of this fact. These events were triggered the day following the election, when Timoshenko gave the instructions,” says Nikolay Azarov, Ukrainian parliament deputy.

Meanwhile, members of Yulia Timoshenko’s Bloc have dismissed the allegations and accused the Party of Regions of obstructing the legally appointed acting director of the plant.

And while the blame game continues, it is still unclear who instigated the attack. The authorities have called on both candidates’ parties to leave the vital printing firm alone.

“We urge the Cabinet of Ministers to appoint one of the factory’s current employees as new CEO. And his candidacy must be checked with Ukraine’s Security Service,” declared Raisa Bogatyryova, Ukraine’s Security Council chair.

Ukrainian prosecutors have launched a criminal investigation into the incident. Meanwhile, the country’s national Security Council has decided to send Interior Ministry’s troops to guard the plant.