The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Tory MP praises Ukrainians as brave for turning out in big numbers to vote

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OTTAWA - Prime Minister Stephen Harper is promising support to the people of Ukraine who voted in a presidential election on Sunday.

"Congratulations to the people of #Ukraine for taking this important step towards rebuilding democracy, Harper tweeted Sunday. "CDA will continue to stand by you."

A Canadian MP says the voting went smoothly and largely peacefully.

Conservative James Bezan, a member of Canada's 350-member election observation team, describes Ukrainians as resilient and brave, adding they turned out in substantial numbers across the country to cast their ballots.

He says the turnout was strong even in areas of eastern Ukraine where heavily armed pro-Russian rebels attempted to stop people from voting.

Those agitators smashed ballot boxes, shut down polling stations and threatened would-be voters.

Bezan says election observers knew there were going to be difficulties in those areas.

So officials made arrangements to allow Ukrainians living in those regions to cast their ballots at more secure polling stations.

He says the mood this weekend in Kharkiv, where he is serving as an election observer, was calm and peaceful, including during a pro-Russian rally which ended without incident. The city is located just 30 kilometres from the Russian border.

An exit poll shows that billionaire candy-maker Petro Poroshenko is the hands-down winner of the election. The West is hoping the vote might resolve the crisis in the eastern European nation following Russia's annexation of Crimea in March.

Bezan is reiterating the Conservative government's call for Russia to return Crimea to Ukraine. He adds Ukrainians are "extremely thankful" for Canada's strong position against Russia.

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