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Ukraine Mired In Fresh Standoff

Demonstrators were again surrounding government buildings today (file photo) 5 December 2004 -- Ukraine's pro-Western opposition was today locked in a fresh standoff with the government that is raising fears over preparations for a repeat of the country's flawed late-November presidential election.

Outgoing President Leonid Kuchma is insisting on constitutional reforms that would dilute the powers of the next president.

Political analysts say opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko is the front-runner to win the presidency in a new two-man runoff against Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych that is tentatively slated for 26 December.

Yushchenko supporters in parliament are refusing to back constitutional reforms proposed by Kuchma that would undermine presidential powers.

Opposition supporters held fresh street protests in the capital today.

The latest stalemate follows a landmark ruling on 3 December by Ukraine's Supreme Court that invalidated the 21 November presidential poll as being riddled with fraud.

Checks and Imbalances

The new impasse led to an abrupt adjournment yesterday of an emergency legislative session aimed at paving the way for new balloting. The parliament, or Verkhovna Rada, abandoned plans to continue the weekend session and instead adjourned for 10 days.

Some political analysts suggest that Kuchma's aim as he steps down after 10 years of rule is to maintain his influence through parliament, where his support is still strong.

They note that the reforms would transfer power from the president to the parliament on appointing all top government posts except for the prime minister, defense, and foreign ministers. The president's candidates for those three posts would need to be approved by lawmakers.

The dispute also has blocked important changes to Ukraine's electoral law that the opposition says are needed to prevent similar fraud to that which has sparked two weeks of intense public demonstrations.

The parliament adjourned without taking any action on the proposed election reforms or constitutional changes.

Kyiv Rallies Continue

Correspondents reported that thousands of demonstrators were massed today at government buildings and on Kyiv's central Independence Square. They are vowing to stay until the path is clear for the repeat presidential balloting expected on 26 December.

At a Kyiv rally last night, Yushchenko told supporters that Kuchma must replace Ukraine's Central Electoral Commission and dismiss the government of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych -- the pro-Russia presidential candidate whose cabinet lost a no-confidence vote in the parliament on 1 December.

"Until the president issues a decree dismissing members of the Central Electoral Commission and sets up new commission, until he dismisses the de jure government and adopts the ruling on the election on 26 December, all dialogue is useless," Yushchenko said.

Yushchenko's campaign team wants the electoral changes to be approved before the repeat vote. It wants any constitutional changes to be considered after the elections.

Kuchma, who backed Yanukovych during the run-up to the presidential vote, accuses the opposition of reneging on pledges to prove both electoral reforms and constitutional curbs on the presidential powers.

International Pressure

Kuchma has appealed for Russian and European mediators to return to Kyiv for talks tomorrow.

An aide to Aleksander Kwasniewski said today that the Polish president will mediate that new round of negotiations. EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus, and Russian Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov are also expected to participate.

Also today, the chairman-in-office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi, urged Ukrainian officials to allow international observers full access to the new presidential vote process. He also called for the voting to comply with OSCE standards of fairness, and he requested that Ukraine's authorities ensure "an honest campaign and impartial state media."

Pasi called on the OSCE's 55 member states to send election observers to help monitor the voting in the expected 26 December runoff.

Yushchenko Cites Threats

Opposition leader Yushchenko said in separate interviews published today that he is receiving death threats and that his family has gone into hiding for fear of their safety.

The remarks came in separate interviews with BBC televison and Britain's "Sunday Telegraph" newspaper today. Yushchenko also said he had expected an attack on his person during the run-up to the now-annulled presidential election.

Yushchenko said he is still determined to find out the facts behind the mystery illness that disfigured his face during the election campaign. He referred to that illness as a result of poisoning and said he will soon reveal to the world "all the details of what they gave me to look like this."

Recent stories:
"Ukraine: Opposition Says Government, Electoral Body Must Be Purged Before Runoff"
"Ukraine's Parliament Meets To Prepare For Repeat Vote"
"Ukraine: Ethnic Relations Good, But Some Fear Russian Manipulation"
Background information:

"Frequently Asked Questions" about the Ukrainian crisis

"Politicians To Watch" as events unfold

[To see an archive of RFE/RL's full coverage and analysis since the Ukrainian crisis began, click here.]

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