New Ukraine poll likely way out of crisis
A new Ukrainian poll of some sort looks increasingly likely once again on Thursday as parliament and the Supreme Court press ahead with efforts to resolve a national crisis over a disputed presidential election.
But both sides, whose talks were brokered by international mediators, agreed to proceed with constitutional changes long sought by outgoing President Leonid Kuchma to reduce the powers of the president and boost those of parliament.
No more talks were scheduled pending a ruling by the Supreme Court on Yushchenko's complaint of electoral fraud in the Nov. 21 run-off for the presidency.
The court's ruling will be pivotal to resolving the crisis, which has dented the economy. If the court, meeting for a fourth day, rules in favor of the opposition, election officials will have to revoke the victory they handed to Yanukovich.
Ten days into the crisis, Ukraine's opposition scored a victory in its drive to overturn the election result when parliament sacked Yanukovich's government. But Yanukovich called the decision illegal and refused to accept it.
Yushchenko, who regards links to the West as key to Ukraine's future while Yanukovich views strong ties to Moscow as essential for the country's development, has brought vast crowds of supporters onto the streets to back his case.
The European Union, the United States and other Western powers have called for a new election to end the standoff. NATO urged politicians not to reduce the dispute to an East-West row.
Yushchenko made clear after the talks ended on Wednesday evening that he wanted a repeat of last month's run-off -- and not a completely new poll as favored by Kuchma.
"If the idea of a completely new election is raised again, there is absolutely no point in taking part in these talks," Yushchenko told supporters in Kiev's Independence Square.
He said Kuchma and his prime minister were "feeling the pressure from the streets and from the West."
A completely new vote would need about three months to organize and keep Kuchma in office in the meantime.
Several thousand Yushchenko supporters kept up a party-like atmosphere overnight in a sprawling tent camp set up on Kiev's tree-lined main street, Khreshchatyk.
Despite what Kuchma said was an agreement to free government institutions from opposition blockades, protesters remained in place around government and presidential offices.
Television showed fresh rallies in Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine, where demonstrators furious at attempts to overturn the Nov. 21 result filled city centers in support of Yanukovich.
Parliament meets on Thursday to begin drafting changes to legislation necessary to implement reforms.
Yushchenko said he believed agreement would take 24 hours, but EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, one of the international mediators, said a month was needed for amendments.
"You may start thinking of a little bit over a month for all these things to be in place ... maybe a little bit longer, maybe a little bit shorter," Solana told reporters.
The EU views Ukraine, with its industrial and agricultural might still to be exploited, as a future member.
For Russia, any loss of Ukraine to the embrace of the West would underline the Kremlin's dwindling influence in a region it once ruled.
Russia won an agreement with Kiev to carry on using the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol for its Black Sea naval fleet after the collapse of the Soviet Union.