KIEV, Ukraine -- Rival political camps in Ukraine have fired the first shots in what seems set to be a dirty fight for the presidency, trading accusations of high-level involvement in a child sex scandal and a years-old rape case.
Supporters of former premier Viktor Yanukovich, front-runner for the Jan. 17 election, called for a probe into reports that members of Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko's BYuT bloc were involved in a sex scandal at a children's holiday camp.One of the deputies named wrote on his blog last week that he had not been down to Crimea, where the camp is located, in recent years. A second deputy told journalists the same.Tymoshenko loyalists hit back with accusations that Yanukovich, 59, was involved in the beating and rape of a woman when a member of a youth gang.In a debate in parliament on Tuesday, Prosecutor General Oleksander Medvedko confirmed three members of BYuT had been named as perpetrators in a case of depraved actions committed against two children.He said the case had first come to light in April when the mother of the children accused the father of depraved actions while they stayed at the Artek camp — the most famous Black Sea resort for young communists during the Soviet days."As for the involvement of the parliamentarians in these events — this fact became known to the general prosecutors on Oct. 13," Medvedko told parliament."Until then, neither the mother or the children said anything about the involvement of the parliamentarians in the events to police officials."He said the children had picked out the three BYuT members' from photographs — two have been questioned and the third would be on Wednesday. The prosecutors will then decide whether to proceed with a criminal case.Both the Regions Party and BYuT bloc accuse each other of political smears timed for Monday's formal start of campaigning."The 2010 elections will be a fight to the end," said political analyst Oleksey Golobutsky. "If the campaign starts with such harsh information warfare, just imagine what can be expected by the end of the electoral race."Opinion polls show Tymoshenko as the strongest opponent of Yanukovich in the poll and they are expected to face off in a February head-to-head showdown. President Viktor Yushchenko has very low ratings and is expected to drop out in the first round.RAPE CLAIMTymoshenko's supporters have gone on the offensive, taking direct aim at Yanukovich.BYuT deputy Sergiy Sobolev, in a statement on the bloc's website, said accusations that Yanukovich and a gang raped and beat a woman in his home town of Enakieve in the 1970s had been brought to the attention of the prosecutors several years ago.Sobelev, speaking later in parliament, asked the prosecutor general why the case had not been taken up. The Prosecutor General said he was not in office at the time and had no knowledge of the matter.The rape accusation was originally made by Hryhory Omelchenko, the same parliamentarian who last week said three BYuT deputies were involved in the child molestation case, Sobolev said. Serhiy Lyovochkin, deputy head of Yanukovich's Regions party, dismissed the accusation."Today's statement . . . is a lie which the Yulia Tymoshenko bloc is trying to use to divert attention from the violence against children. They have started their campaign in their usual style which does not surprise me."During his youth, Yanukovich was imprisoned twice for theft and assault. His aides said the charges were struck from the record and no documents are available on the issue.The last presidential election led to the "Orange Revolution" of 2004, catapulting Yushchenko to power after he beat Moscow-backed Yanukovich in a re-run of a rigged vote.Apart from mass voting fraud, the run-up to that poll was marked by violence including the murder of a prominent journalist, the suicide of an interior minister and the poisoning of Yushchenko which has left his face badly scarred.