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Ukraine poll crisis deepens

Protesters fill Kiev's Independence Square for a second day.
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Thousands of unhappy Ukraine citizens protest the recent presidential elections

CNN's David Ensor looks at possible consequences of the disputed presidential election in Ukraine.

KIEV, Ukraine (CNN) -- Despite cold temperatures and blowing snow, large crowds have gathered in three Kiev locations, shouting and waving flags and signs to support opposition presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko after what they claim was a fraudulent election.

But the demonstrations -- at the presidential administration building, the Parliament building and Independence Square -- so far appear joyful and remained peaceful.

Uniformed policemen with helmets were standing by, but demonstration organizers formed a human chain in order to keep demonstrators from having any physical contact with them.

The Special Forces policemen, meanwhile, backed up in order to avoid any confrontation.

In Washington, meanwhile, the White House issued a statement saying the United States is "deeply disturbed by extensive and credible indications of fraud committed in the Ukranian presidential election."

Outgoing president Leonid Kuchma called for negotiations in the matter, saying the opposition's actions amounted to a "political farce" that could lead to "serious consequences," according to news reports.

Kuchma reportedly said authorities would not be the first to use force, but would uphold law and order.

Earlier Tuesday, Yushchenko warned Ukraine could descend into civil war if the election results he called "a sham" were not annulled and he was not named president.

At the end of a parliamentary session attended only by his supporters, Yushchenko symbolically read the oath of office, while demonstrators outside the building chanted his last name, waving orange flags representing his party.

Late Monday, the Ukrainian election commission said that Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych had a slim but mathematically winning lead over Yushchenko, prompting demonstrations from Kiev to the nationalist center of Lviv in the west.

Yushchenko -- and U.S. and European election observers -- said the vote was fraudulent.

Kiev, Lviv and several other cities announced they would not accept the results of the vote and would recognize only Yushchenko as the winner.

But the results also are not final and not official -- and it may be days before they are.

The White House statement said it strongly supported an investigation of the election.

"We call on the government of Ukraine to respect the will of the Ukranian people, and we urge all Ukrainians to resolve the situation through peaceful means," the statement said.

"The government bears a special responsibility not to use or incite violence, and to allow free media to report accurately on the situation without intimidation or concern. The United States stands with the Ukranian people in this difficult time."

Yushchenko has called on his supporters not to stand down until the vote was corrected, beginning with civil disobedience.

He warned that Ukraine risked "civil conflict" if the vote were to stand.

Yushchenko would need the help of other parties in parliament to annul the vote, and on Tuesday, the chamber lacked enough for even a quorum.

The politicians spoke anyway, watched on a large television screen set up outside for the demonstrators.

When Yushchenko stepped before the cameras, the crowd outside parliament roared its approval and again chanted his name.

Should Parliament pass a no-confidence vote against the election commission, the matter would go to the Supreme Court, which could then annul the vote in some areas, including some in which as much as 95 percent of the vote was reported cast for Yanukovych.

The alleged election fraud was expected by many Ukrainians, said Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky, the chair of Women's Campaign International, a group that provides political training for women worldwide, and a professor at the Fels Institute of Government at the University of Pennsylvania.

Margolies-Mezvinsky traveled to the Ukraine in October as part of a delegation.

"This is what they said it was going to be," Margolies-Mezvinsky told CNN International.

She said she has been told voters could not find their names on the rolls at polling places, and that state government workers were told to vote for Yanukovych or lose their jobs.

Yushchenko, a pro-Western liberal, and Yanukovych, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, fought a bitterly contested runoff battle.

Yanukovych said that the majority of voters had backed him.

"The preliminary results are optimistic -- a majority of voters have shown their preference for my position and program," he said in a written statement.

Officials earlier said that with 99.38 percent of precincts counted, Yanukovych had 49.42 percent to Yushchenko's 46.70 percent.

Earlier partial results showed Yanukovych less than one percentage point ahead. An exit poll, conducted under a Western-funded program, gave Yushchenko 54 percent of the vote to Yanukovych's 43 percent.

Another poll put Yushchenko ahead by 49.4 to 45.9 percent, the Interfax news agency reported.

Yanukovych congratulated

But Russian President Putin congratulated Yanukovych on his victory in a presidential election, Interfax news agency reported.

Reporting from Brazil, where Putin is on an official visit, Interfax quoted his press secretary as saying the Russian president had telephoned Yanukovych, telling him "the battle had been hard-fought, but open and honest, and his victory was convincing."

Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Council of Europe, the European Parliament and NATO criticized the balloting.

"There was certainly fraud, though this is difficult to quantify," a leading member of the OSCE delegation, Gert-Hinrich Ahrens, told CNN.

He said there had been incidents of violence and intimidation -- and in some areas 5 percent of voters had been added to the lists on voting day, many of them with certificates allowing them to vote away from their place of residence.

Even stronger criticism came from Richard Lugar, chairman of the U.S. Senate's Foreign Relations Committee.

"It is now apparent that a concerted and forceful program of election-day fraud and abuse was enacted with either the leadership or cooperation of governmental authorities," said Lugar, who was sent to Kiev as U.S. President George W. Bush's envoy.

CNN's Jill Dougherty and Ryan Chilcote contributed to this report.

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