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Ukraine election dispute drags on
Updated: 2004-11-27 16:31

Opposition supporters in Ukraine continue to block key government buildings, after the first meeting between two presidential rivals ended without agreement and amid opposition threats of "action" if the election dispute is not resolved within days.

Members of the special police forces hold their shields outside the Presidential office building in Kiev November 27, 2004.
Members of the special police forces hold their shields outside the Presidential office building in Kiev November 27, 2004. [AFP]
Addressing a sea of roaring supporters, Europe-friendly opposition chief Viktor Yushchenko said he had presented his bitter Moscow-leaning rival with an ultimatum: give quick approval to a new presidential vote or face action on the streets.

He called for a fresh presidential vote on December 12.

"We will allow only a few days for the negotiation process. If (Prime Minister Viktor) Yanukovich wants to drag things out, we will take active measures," he told a crowd of tens of thousands in Kiev's Independence Square following Friday's talks which also involved European mediators.

"We insist on the following: the main precondition for the talks is the holding of new elections for the president of Ukraine."

Ukraine's parliament was due to discuss the standoff at an extraordinary session expected to begin at noon (1000 GMT).

Police cadets sing the national anthem after they joined the thousands of supporters of Ukraine's opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko who continue to rally in Kiev's main square to protest against the Presidential election results. [AFP]
"The Ukrainian parliament has to take political responsibility and evaluate the situation in the country, as well as the actions of the central election commission," parliament speaker Volodymyr Litvine had said.

Yushchenko's ultimatum came after a day of some of the most feverish street rallies since last Sunday's disputed run-off polls between the two men saw the official vote count go to the Moscow-backed prime minister, amid accusations of electoral fraud.

Chanting, orange-clad Yushchenko faithful blocked the presidential administration and cabinet ministry building in a human chain and in effect paralyzed the government.

Yanukovich was unable to make it to his office and a day of urgent talks between the two rivals and a team of increasingly concerned mediators from Russia and the European Union had to be held at a separate government retreat.

The parties locked themselves up in the Mariinsky Palace for three hours to try to thrash a way out of the most serious political crisis to hit Ukraine since it broke away from Russia when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

Russia -- which has openly backed the pro-Moscow candidate Yanukovich and has been exchanging angry rhetoric with the West over the poll reminiscent of the Cold War era -- was represented at the talks by parliament speaker Boris Gryzlov.

Outgoing President Leonid Kuchma forced the two bitter foes to shake hands after the meeting and then put a brave face on a tense situation by reporting that some progress had indeed been made.

"We stand against any use of force that might lead to an escalation of conflict and bloodshed," Kuchma read from a statement signed by the two.

"To ensure the negotiation process, the parties established a working group in order to elaborate a joint decision on the settlement of the political crisis," the statement went on.

However European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana told reporters here that he had made it clear to Ukraine's leadership that he believed the vote was fraudulent and that future relations between the two sides depended on a "democratic" resolution -- a clear statement of support for Yushchenko's demands.

Fellow mediator and Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski called the talks "a good start, but added that "the road to a compromise is still very long".

US President George W. Bush also warned from Washington that he remained concerned about "a lot of allegations of vote fraud that placed their (Ukraine's) elections, the validity of their elections in doubt."

The roundtable meeting was held amid growing signs that Ukraine's seat of power was relenting -- even as Russia furiously accused Western nations of applying unlawful pressure on its most important eastern European ally.

Ukraine's national television news, which throughout the week has aired mostly positive coverage of Yanukovich, has begun to feature the opposition.

The Ukrainian supreme court on Monday is due to hear opposition claims that the state rigged the vote in favor of Yanukovich. Analysts have said its judges have shown independence in the past and may possibly back Yushchenko.

However Russia appears to be sticking to its guns after President Vladimir Putin put his own credibility on the line by twice visiting Ukraine during the campaign to back Yanukovich.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters in Moscow that Europe was trying to pull its ally into the Western camp by dangerously and illegally fomenting opposition protests.

"We are alarmed by attempts by certain governments to steer the situation in Ukraine away from a legal path," Lavrov said.

"Especially when certain European capitals are declaring that they do not recognize the elections and that Ukraine has to be with the West," he added.

The comments were some of the harshest from Russia because they directly confirmed that Moscow was interested in seeing its own allies rule the strategic former Soviet republic.

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