Ukraine's Tymoshenko launches hunger strike over "rigged" vote
KIEV (Reuters) - Ukraine's jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko launched a hunger strike on Monday to protest against alleged vote-rigging in favor of President Viktor Yanukovich's party in a weekend election, her lawyer said.
Exit polls and partial results from Sunday's vote showed Yanukovich's Party of the Regions would, with help from long-time allies, win more than half the seats in the 450-member assembly.
The united opposition bloc, which includes Tymoshenko's Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party, was second with about 100 seats, according to preliminary estimates.
But Tymoshenko, who had warned before the vote that the Regions' victory would lead to "dictatorship", does not accept the figures, her lawyer Serhiy Vlasenko said.
"Yulia Volodymyrovna (Tymoshenko) has gone on a hunger strike in protest against vote-rigging," Vlasenko said by telephone from the city of Kharkiv where Tymoshenko is being treated for back trouble in a state-run hospital.
"This was not an election, this was total vote-rigging".
A court last October sentenced Tymoshenko, 51, to seven years in prison, ruling she had abused her powers as prime minister when she forced through a 2009 gas deal with Russia. She has denied any wrongdoing.
The European Union and the United States have condemned her jailing as an example of selective justice and Brussels has shelved landmark deals on free trade and political association with Kiev over the issue.
Tymoshenko's allegations of electoral fraud on Monday contrasted with other opposition politicians, including those from her own bloc, who were reserved in their judgment.
Western observers, who called the election a step backwards for Ukraine, criticized misuse of administrative resources, biased media coverage and opaque campaign finances rather than the voting and counting process.
Tymoshenko, a leader of the 2004 Orange Revolution which derailed Yanukovich's first bid for the presidency, was detained in August 2011 and has been in hospital since May after complaining about chronic back problems.
She faces tax evasion and fraud charges in a separate trial, delayed because of her poor health, while challenging the initial conviction in the European Court of Human Rights.
(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Richard Balmforth and Andrew Osborn)
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