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Ukrainian Political Crisis Deepens

  • Askold Krushelnycky --> The opposition continues to surround Ukraine's parliament building (file photo) The crisis in Ukraine has deepened with an ultimatum by the opposition to President Leonid Kuchma to fire Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. The ultimatum gives Kuchma 24 hours to fire Yanukovych, his cabinet and the prosecutor-general, and initiate legal action against regional governors calling for eastern parts of Ukraine to break away. The opposition says that if their terms are not met they will swamp wherever Kuchma is staying and prevent him from leaving.

Kyiv, 29 November 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Tens of thousands of Yushchenko supporters today surrounded the parliament, where the opposition called for an emergency session.

Many thousands of others marched to the Supreme Court, which was considering an opposition demand to declare the election invalid in the most heavily fraudulent election districts -- particularly Luhansk and Donetsk in eastern Ukraine. If the court were to do that, Yushchenko could still be declared winner. No verdict is expected until 30 November at the earliest

Discussions between the two sides, brokered by the European Union and the Polish and Lithuanian presidents, faltered on 28 November and seemed to be headed for deadlock.

One of the items to be discussed was the possibility of another election, this time under stricter supervision to eliminate the cheating for which Western election monitors and governments have blamed the government.

Last night, addressing tens of thousands of opposition supporters in Kyiv, one of Yushchenko's top allies, Yuliya Tymoshenko, read out an ultimatum to President Kuchma. It called for Kuchma to fire Yanukovych, his cabinet, the prosecutor-general, and initiate legal action against separatist politicians in eastern parts of Ukraine.

"[Kuchma must] dismiss Prime Minister Yanukovych from his post for helping to falsify the election and for participating in separatist actions," Tymoshenko said, adding that Kuchma must "immediately dismiss those governors in the Donetsk, Luhansk, and Kharkiv regions who initiated the breakup of the country."

Tymoshenko said if Kuchma failed to comply he would be physically blocked from moving around and effectively held prisoner by thousands of demonstrators.

On 28 November, senior pro-Yanukovych politicians in the Donetsk, Luhansk, and Kharkiv regions threatened to create an autonomous region if the opposition got its way and if Yushchenko was declared president.

Donetsk, Ukraine's largest industrial city with a population of around 1 million people, is Yanukovych's political heartland.

Yanukovych presided over a meeting there on 28 November with around 4,000 delegates from his Party of the Regions.

Some of the regions said they have suspended their contributions to the central budget. The chairman of the Luhansk regional legislature, Viktor Tychonov, is one of those threatening to break up Ukraine.
Pro-Yanukovych politicians in the Donetsk, Luhansk, and Kharkiv regions have threatened to create an autonomous region if Yushchenko is declared president.

"The participants of the [Luhansk region] legislature decisively condemn the anti-state and anti-national actions of the so-called opposition that pushes Ukraine toward a territorial split and catastrophe," Tychonov said. "Therefore, because of the possibility of further development of the coup d'etat and an illegitimate president coming to power, we the participants of the legislature reserve the right to take adequate steps for the self-defense of the citizens of our regions and all Ukraine."

The Donetsk and Luhansk regions are considered, even by the opposition, areas where Yanukovych likely did secure more votes than Yushchenko -- although nowhere near the very high majorities his side claims.

Authorities running Kharkiv, the city separatists mention as a possible capital of a breakaway region, have opposed the breakaway idea.

The opposition is warning the separatist moves could provoke violence and have called on Kuchma to condemn the moves.

"Those who are calling for separatism are committing crimes and will definitely receive severe punishment," Yushchenko said.

Yanukovych did not directly back the separatist plan but has not criticized it. During the meeting he warned: "Today we are on the brink of catastrophe. There is one step to the edge." He also seemed to issue an ultimatum to Kuchma.

"Today all the organs of government are effectively blocked and unless the president, in the coming days and with Ukraine's national security forces, does not accept a decision to unblock the work of state organs, and if today the parliament does not agree on a decision to stop the actions against the government, against the constitution, against the rights of our citizens, then it will be necessary for everyone to stand up and determinedly say their word," Yanukovych said.

The opposition believes the breakaway plan can only work if Russia encourages it in an attempt to impose a "Moldovization" on Ukraine.

The reference is to what has effectively happened to Moldova, which is now split into a Romanian-speaking internationally recognized part and another unrecognized mainly Russian-speaking area.

Meanwhile, The European Union and NATO have both appealed for Ukrainian unity. EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana told reporters in Brussels that the unity of Ukraine is "fundamental."

"The unity of Ukraine is fundamental," Solana said. "The sense of the nation has to be recuperated and the sense of the state has to be recuperated, that is very important. At the end of the day these elections, we hope very much, will signify that."