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Ukrainian Parliament Convenes Amid Constitutional Crisis

Kyiv, 3 February 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The Ukrainian parliament is opening a new session today, with controversial constitutional changes proposed by President Leonid Kuchma at the top of the agenda.

On the eve of the new parliament session, Kuchma and opposition groups and lawmakers appeared to defuse a crisis over the most controversial amendment -- having the parliament and not the people choose the next president in 2006.

But late yesterday, Kuchma and opposition lawmakers reached an "oral agreement" to scrap that proposal. In announcing the breakthrough, Kuchma's representative to the parliament, Oleksandr Zadorozhny, said the agreement still needs to finalized.

The controversy began in December when a bill to reform the constitution was given approval by Kuchma supporters and Communists in the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada. The most controversial element was to have the president elected by parliament and not by popular vote.

Last week, the Council of Europe threatened to suspend Ukraine from its organization over what it said was the country's political crisis, caused by the constitutional proposals. The European Union and the United States have also expressed concern.