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Ukrainian Legislature Rejects Government --> Protesters, many decked in opposition orange, celebrate today's no-confidence vote outside the parliament building 1 December 2004 -- The Ukrainian parliament passed a motion of no confidence today in the government of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych that was put forward by the opposition, which is bitterly contesting the official results of the recent presidential vote through street demonstrations and legal challenges.

The enforceability of today's parliamentary vote is unclear, since under the Ukrainian Constitution the power to dismiss the government also lies with the president.

After parliament adopted the resolution, outgoing Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said only he will act in keeping with the constitution, suggesting that he will consider today's parliamentary move a recommendation rather than an obligation.

Moreover, the legislature may not dismiss the prime minister within one year of its approval of a government program, a step that the Verkhovna Rada took in March. The parliament in a separate vote today annulled its March resolution on approving the government's program, but that move would likely face legal challenges if invoked to unseat Yanukovych.

But the no-confidence measure delivers a strong political message as the two sides continue to disagree.

Deputies in the parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, voted in favor of sacking Yanukovych's government and forming a "government of national trust."

The motion was supported by 229 deputies, three more than required.

Today's vote came minutes after deputies initially rejected the motion and after Kuchma announced that he supports holding a new presidential election, not just a new ballot for the disputed second-round runoff of 21 November.

Efforts At Mediation

Meanwhile today, a team of international of mediators is in Kyiv for urgent talks aimed at defusing the crisis.

EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana spoke to reporters shortly after arriving in Kyiv earlier today.

"I am optimistic, I should be optimistic," Solana said. "And I am sure that with the goodwill of everybody, we will see progress in the coming days."

Solana is due to be joined later by Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus, and Jan Kubis, the head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Also expected is Boris Gryzlov, speaker of the Russian Duma.

U.S President George W. Bush, urging Ukrainian's to find a peaceful solution to the crisis, wished the mediators well in a telephone call to Poland's Kwasniewski.

"Our common goal is to see the will of the Ukrainian people prevail," Bush reportedly said.

The mediators hope to bring together supporters of both Prime Minister Yanukovych and opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko, one day after the opposition said it was breaking off negotiations and resuming its blockade of government buildings.

Demonstrators this morning surrounded and virtually blocked off the offices of parliament, the government, and the president in the capital today, according to RFE/RL's Kyiv bureau.

In talks on 26 November, the mediators persuaded Yanukovych, the declared winner of the 21 November poll, and Yushchenko to seek to resolve their dispute through talks. The opposition pulled out of those talks yesterday after they failed to make any headway.

The Dutch EU Presidency today suggested that a re-run of Ukraine's disputed presidential election might be the only way out of that country's political crisis.

Dutch Europe Minister Atzo Nicolai told the European Parliament today that he believes the current deadlocked outcome of the vote is ultimately unacceptable to all. Nicolai said the new elections would have to be conducted in a free, fair, and transparent manner.

Donetsk Plans Referendum

Authorities in Ukraine's eastern region of Donetsk said today they will hold a referendum on 9 January concerning limited autonomy.

Boris Kolesnikov, the head of the Donetsk regional legislative council, made the announcement at a council meeting in Donetsk.

"The regional council has decided to hold on 9 January 2005 a regional consultative [nonbinding] referendum on the regional council's decision to propose changes to the Constitution of Ukraine, giving the Donetsk region the status of a self-governing constituent within a federation, while respecting the territorial integrity of Ukraine," Kolesnikov said.

Kolesnikov said the referendum, in Yanukovych's home region, should not be construed as a separatist drive, as some have interpreted.

Donetsk Governor Anatoliy Bliznyuk also said the region is not seeking full autonomy.

The details of the referendum must be worked out within eight days.

Tensions Still High

The Supreme Court also continued hearings today on opposition complaints that the presidential election was manipulated. Under Ukrainian law, the court cannot rule on the overall result but can declare results invalid in individual districts.

That decision is expected sometime in the next several days.

Ukraine's economy is seeing the strain of the political crisis. Kuchma, who has warned that the economy could collapse, met with officials today to consider measures to stabilize the financial markets.

The central bank has already tightened controls on cash operations and dollar sales to prevent a banking crisis and slow capital flight.

In an apparent bid to defuse the crisis, Yanukovych yesterday offered Yushchenko the post of prime minister in exchange for both men to be withdrawn from fresh elections, but Yushchenko has publicly ignored the offer.

Yushchenko claims the 21 November runoff was rigged in Yanukovych's favor, a charge supported by many election observers and Western governments.

The Central Election Commission announced on 24 November that Yanukovych had won the national vote by nearly 3 percent.

(compiled from RFE/RL and agency reports)

Other recent stories include:
"Foreign Mediators Push To Resolve Ukraine Crisis"
"Is Kuchma's Proposal For New Vote A Bid To Sideline Yushchenko?"
"Did President Putin Miscalculate In Ukraine?"
"Ukraine's Parliament Adjourns Without No-Confidence Motion"
"Will Ukraine Split In Wake Of Divisive Ballot?"

[Click here for more RFE/RL coverage of Ukraine's disputed presidential election.]