Opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko declared victory Monday in Ukraine's fiercely contested presidential election, telling thousands of supporters they had taken their country to a new political era after a bitterly fought campaign that required an unprecedented three ballots and Supreme Court intervention against fraud.
"There is news: It's over. Now, today, the Ukrainian people have won. I congratulate you," he told the crowd in Kiev's central Independence Square, the focus of weeks of protests after the fraudulent and now-annulled November 21 ballot in which Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych had been declared the winner.
With ballots from just over 95 percent of precincts counted, Yushchenko was leading with 53.7 percent compared with Yanukovych's 42.5 percent.
"We have been independent for 14 years but we were not free," Yushchenko said. "Now we can say this is a thing of the past. Now we are facing an independent and free Ukraine."