KIEV Ukraine's outgoing parliament ordered re-runs in five electoral districts on Tuesday, overriding complaints by the opposition which says President Viktor Yanukovich's party is trying to rob them of seats won national polls late last month.
Yanukovich's Party of the Regions and allies retained their majority in October 28 parliamentary elections but international observers and three opposition parties said the vote was tainted by fraud and pre-election bias in local media.
The Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) of jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, far-right nationalists and a liberal party headed by boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko, have organized protests outside the Central Election Commission's offices in the capital Kiev.
They are demanding recounts in 13 constituencies where they say they have been cheated out of victory.
The authorities have until November 12 to announce the preliminary overall results and binding official results by November 17. It was not clear when the approved re-runs could take place.
Prime Minister Mykola Azarov dismissed the fraud allegations and accused the opposition of seeking to foment a repeat of the 2004-5 "Orange Revolution", when street protests against vote-rigging doomed Yanukovich's first bid for the presidency.
"Once again we're hearing calls for destabilization," Azarov told reporters. "We have no extra money for absurd ideas. The country has held elections. It has formed a parliament. It will work according to its schedule," he said.
The outgoing parliament, dominated by the Regions party, approved re-runs in five districts that each elect one deputy, and stalled opposition pressure for a broader recount in 13 districts by setting up a committee to study the matter.
Senior figures in the anti-Yanukovich coalition said they would continue to press their demands despite Tuesday's vote.
"We are demanding that the Central Electoral Commission conduct a count of the vote (in the 13 districts) and announce our candidates the winners," Arseny Yatseniuk, a former economy minister who heads the united opposition in the absence of Tymoshenko, told journalists.
"We will not vote for a farce. We will demand from President Yanukovich that he be the guarantor of the constitution and not the guarantor of fraud," he said.
RUNNING OUT OF STEAM
Klitschko, the WBC world heavyweight champion who heads the UDAR (Punch) party, said: "Up to November 12 we will continue to keep up moral pressure on those at the Central Electoral Commission and the presidential administration and will show them that votes should not simply be stolen."
Even if the opposition won all 13 contested seats, the Regions would retain a majority in the 450-seat parliament, assuming help from traditional parliamentary allies such as the communists.
Securing the disputed seats could provide the opposition with a springboard to challenge Yanukovich, whom they accuse of fostering corruption and cronyism, if he stands for re-election in 2015.
However, the numbers of demonstrators at election headquarters in Kiev down to just a few hundred, the steam seemed to be running out of the protest.
Yanukovich's pro-business Regions party, which is financed by wealthy industrialists, says it alone can provide stability in Ukraine, a major exporter of steel and grain.
(Additional reporting by Pavel Polityuk and Natalia Zinets; Editing by Jon Boyle)