KIEV — US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday accused Ukraine of taking a step backwards in legislative elections won by the ruling party but which the opposition claimed were unfair and fraudulent.
Jailed former prime minister and opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko announced she was going on hunger strike to protest the results, but the prisons service vowed to force feed her if necessary.
Observers from the OSCE had already expressed disappointment over the conduct of the polls, which risk further isolating President Viktor Yanukovych, who is already largely shunned by the West over Tymoshenko's imprisonment.
On a visit to Bosnia-Hercegovina, Clinton called the elections "a step backwards" and urged "the Ukrainian leadership (to) stop the backward slide".
Yanukovych's Regions Party was set to win the polls against Tymoshenko's opposition bloc and the UDAR (Punch) group of boxer Vitali Klitschko, with some predicting it would have a thin overall majority in the new parliament.
With 95.6 percent of precincts reporting, results showed the Regions Party collecting 30.6 percent of the vote and Tymoshenko's alliance 25.1 percent.
UDAR moved into third place on 13.8 percent, just ahead of the Communist Party on 13.4 percent. The nationalist Svoboda (Freedom) group, loosely allied with Tymoshenko, would also make it into the chamber with 10.2 percent.
However the Ukraine Forward! party involving ex-football star Andriy Shevchenko was polling only 1.6 percent and was set to fail to win a single seat.
The final composition of the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada will be determined half by the proportional vote and half by first-past-the-post results in single mandate constituencies where the Regions Party has polled especially well.
In the single mandate count, the Regions Party was set to win seats for 117 constituencies, the Tymoshenko bloc 43 seats, Svoboda 10 and UDAR five.
The other seats are set to go to marginal parties and independents, many of whom analysts believe will turn out to be loyal to the Regions Party and give it an overall majority in the new parliament.
Prime Minister Mykola Azarov told reporters: "This means that the Regions Party has scored a resounding victory."
Nevertheless, the entry of Svoboda into the parliament and the prospect of a relatively thin majority are expected to give the Regions Party a rough ride at a time when it is accused of creeping authoritarianism.
-- OSCE denied Tymoshenko meeting --
Tymoshenko's allies said the slowness of the count raised suspicions and predicted that mass protests could follow.
"What has happened over the last day cannot even be called falsification, it is a crime, a bacchanalia of banditry," said leading pro-Tymoshenko MP Sergiy Pashynsky.
"If our voice is not heard, we will react adequately including with mass protests," he added.
The fiery 2004 Orange Revolution leader Tymoshenko -- sentenced to seven years on abuse of power charges she views as the president's personal vendetta -- said in a statement from detention she would go on hunger strike "until the true results are established".
OSCE representatives Tuesday wanted to visit Tymoshenko -- currently hospitalised with back pain in the eastern city of Kharkiv -- but the prisons service said this was impossible as doctors were supervising her due to the hunger strike.
"Yesterday we were speaking about democratic regression in this country. And unfortunately today this fact that we cannot meet Ms Tymoshenko once again proved this right," said OSCE special coordinator Walburga Habsburg Douglas.
Tymoshenko's daughter Yevgenia said she had tried to persuade her mother to halt the hunger strike but that the ex-premier had refused as she had to "fight for the rights of the electorate.".
The deputy head of the prisons service in the Kharkiv region, Andriy Lapinskiy, did not rule out force-feeding Tymoshenko, saying this was allowed by the law.
The Ukrainian foreign ministry issued a moderate response to the tough international reaction, promising to "carefully analyse" the observers' criticisms and "improve the election legislation and practice".
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