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Kuchma Says Crisis Talks Are Going Badly

Two days after European envoys helped establish talks between the two presidential rivals, outgoing President Leonid Kuchma said Sunday that the negotiations were going badly, and he urged the opposition to end a blockade of government buildings. But he had little hope of swaying the opposition, which was buoyed by parliament's declaration Saturday that the presidential election was invalid.

The Supreme Court on Monday is to start hearing an appeal of the election filed by the opposition.

Dutch Foreign Minister Ben Bot, speaking for the European Union, said Saturday in The Hague that new elections were the "ideal outcome" to settle the crisis.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko said Moscow regarded a potential revote favorably -- an apparently significant retreat from its earlier insistence that the election was fair and valid.

Representatives of opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, who was declared the winner last week, did not meet as expected Sunday.

A Yanukovych aide said he hoped the negotiations, held under the auspices of a working group established during talks with European envoys on Friday, would resume Monday. Yushchenko, who claims he was cheated out of victory through fraud in the Nov. 21 presidential runoff, urged his supporters to stay in the streets. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators have thronged downtown Kiev for a week to support him. Starting Thursday, they encircled the Cabinet and the president's administration buildings, refusing to let anyone enter or leave.

Kuchma criticized the blockades as "a gross violation of law."

Yushchenko, addressing tens of thousands of supporters in and around Independence Square, urged the crowds to maintain their vigil.

Last November, huge street protests in Georgia helped lead to the resignation of President Eduard Shevardnadze -- and have become a source of inspiration for many Ukrainian demonstrators.

Saturday's declaration by parliament -- approved by 255 of the 429 legislators present -- was not legally binding, but it was a clear demonstration of rising dissatisfaction with a vote that observers said was tarnished by fraud. Kuchma acknowledged the parliamentary vote, but emphasized that it was a "political decision."

The opposition, however, saw it as a big boost to their fight. "Most important, [the declaration's] character is political, moral and ethical," said Ivan Plyushch, a Yushchenko ally.

Parliament also passed a vote of no confidence in the Central Elections Commission, which declared Yanukovych the winner. "The Central Elections Commission discredited itself in the first round, undermining public trust in the institution as it is," Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn said.

Outside parliament, more than 7,000 opposition protesters encircled the building, chanting, "Yushchenko!"

Yushchenko said Friday that he wants a revote on Dec. 12 under the watch of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. He also demanded that the current 15-person Central Elections Commission be replaced, that absentee balloting be prohibited, that candidates be given equal access to the media and that international observers participate.

Elections commission head Serhiy Kivalov said Saturday that he was not opposed to new voting, but said, "Before such an emotional decision is made, a commission must be created to analyze the work of the CEC."

Prospects for a resolution by the working group made up of four people from each campaign were unclear Sunday. Yushchenko's team said Friday that they would give the group two days to reach a decision -- a timeframe that Yanukovych's side called reasonable.

The working group was announced after nearly three hours of talks at the ornate Mariinsky presidential palace Friday. The meeting included European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus and State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov. Jan Kubis, the head of the OSCE, and Lytvyn also participated.

Police fired smoke grenades over the heads of a pro-Yushchenko crowd after someone threw an "explosive packet" at a police cordon outside the mayor's office in Chernihiv, about 130 kilometers north of Kiev, police spokeswoman Raisa Deikun said Friday. Two policemen were hospitalized, she said.

Deikun said the protesters had been trying to seize the mayor's office.

(The Moscow Times 29.xi.04)

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