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Ukraine: Government Meets Elsewhere After Protesters Block Headquarters

Ukraine's government was forced to call off a planned session at its headquarters today after hundreds of demonstrators massed outside to prevent Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych from entering the building. But in a surprise development, the cabinet -- minus Yanukovych -- apparently outwitted protesters by convening at another location.

Prague, 29 December 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The winner of Ukraine's presidential election, Viktor Yushchenko, has called on his supporters to blockade government headquarters to prevent his defeated rival from leading a cabinet meeting.

Yushchenko addressed his supporters last night in Kyiv.

"I ask you to strengthen a blockade of the government building tomorrow from early in the morning," Yushchenko said.

Several hundred protesters answered Yushchenko's call, forming a human chain today in front of government headquarters. Some demonstrators banged pots and pans.

Their efforts appeared to be rewarded when cabinet secretary Anatoly Tolstoukhov announced a postponement of the session, without giving any details.

But it later emerged that the cabinet did, in fact, meet -- without Yanukovych. Finance Minister Mykola Azarov, who also serves as first deputy prime minister, told reporters that he chaired the session at a government building in another part of the city.

Azarov said more than 60 "social and economic issues" were discussed -- although he declined to give details.

What happens next is unclear.

Yushchenko says Yanukovych's cabinet has lost its mandate and has no right to remain in office since parliament passed a nonbinding vote of no confidence in the government several weeks ago. Outgoing President Leonid Kuchma has so far refused to dismiss the prime minister.

Yushchenko's allies say they are concerned that the outgoing cabinet could approve some last-minute laws or amnesties that would complicate life for the future Yushchenko administration.

Yanukovych has refused to concede defeat, despite the fact that the Central Election Commission (TsVK) says preliminary final results show Yushchenko won the 26 December runoff election by more than 2 million votes.

Late yesterday, he filed a formal complaint with the TsVK, alleging that more than 4 million voters -- mostly the elderly and handicapped -- were prevented from casting their ballots. The complaint lists violations of election law in all of Ukraine's 225 electoral districts.

TsVK spokeswoman Zoya Charikova says the commission has two days to examine Yanukovych's appeal. If it turns down the complaint, Yanukovych can then appeal to the Supreme Court, which he has vowed to do.

Other observers note that both sides are also looking forward, seeking to energize their base of support ahead of future parliamentary elections -- meaning the confrontation could continue in some form for some time to come.

Alexander Narodestky, head of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, believes Yanukovych -- although he knows he has lost the presidency -- is battling on in order to rally the anti-Yushchenko forces under one banner, for the next ballot.

"They need to concentrate on one enemy, to consolidate people, to mobilize them, to create a new group which will be some sort of opposition to Yushchenko's camp and prepare for the 2006 parliamentary elections. If they give up now, then they lose all the people," Narodestky said.

The Council of Europe, a pro-democracy and human rights group of which Ukraine is a member, has called on all sides to accept the election results.


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