Ukrainian Catholic Church backs opposition protests

 Bishop Paul Chomnycky, leader of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in the UK said yesterday that his community was in full support of the opposition protests over election fraud in the Ukraine. He said: "Throughout the election we did not become involved in party politics but advised people to take part in the democratic process. But the election has clearly not been conducted fairly." Leaders of the Catholic Church in the Ukraine have supported charges by the country's opposition that Sunday's election victory of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych is invalid because the process was fraudulent. They also urged the government to avoid violence as hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians took to the streets of Western Ukraine to protest election results that declared pro-Russian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych the winner. The synod of Ukrainian Catholic bishops said in a statement released at a press conference on Tuesday: "When people take to the streets to defend their constitutional rights in a peaceful way, they are not a dark mass 'off the street.' These are brave people, self-sacrificing and responsible, who should be honoured and whose voice should be heard, for 'the voice of the people is the voice of God." The Eastern-rite church has around 3300 parishes, mostly in Western Ukraine, which largely voted for the pro-western opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko. The Bishops said: "We turn to those in positions of power, entrusted with power by this same people, asking them not to give in to temptation during the resolution of this very difficult situation, not to use their standing, the means of force and law-enforcement structures for their own narrow interests against their own people." They said that before the election, the church had urged citizens to vote for a "worthy candidate ... according to the voice of conscience." The bishops said they were asking all Ukrainians to pray for the country at "this difficult and responsible moment." At his weekly audience yesterday, Pope John Paul II said he was praying for Ukrainians. The Pope assured a group of pilgrims from the Ukraine "and all the Ukrainian people that in these days I pray particularly for your beloved country." A few dozen Ukrainians waving blue and yellow flags cheered at the Pope's comments. Some also waved orange flags - the colour associated with supporters of the opposition leader Yushchenko.

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