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Yushchenko and Yanukovych aides to return to table as momentum builds for revote

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Nov. 28, 2004, 2:50 p.m. |
(AP) - Outgoing President Leonid Kuchma on Nov. 28 called on Ukraine's political opposition to end a blockade of government buildings by supporters jamming the streets of the capital, saying compromise is needed to solve a weeklong political crisis over a disputed presidential vote.

"Compromise is the only way to avoid unpredictable consequences," the Kuchman said at a meeting of his National Security Council, parts of which were broadcast live on Ukrainian television.

Representatives of the two candidates claiming victory in the Nov. 21 election - Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, who has the backing of Kuchma and the Kremlin, and Western-leaning opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko - were expected back at the negotiating table Nov. 28, a day after the opposition's hopes for a revote got a boost from national lawmakers who adopted a declaration calling the election invalid.

Yushchenko, who claims he was cheated out of victory, is demanding a new vote. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators have thronged downtown Kyiv for a week to support him. Starting Nov. 25, they encircled the Cabinet and president's administration buildings, refusing to let anyone enter or leave. Kuchma criticized the blockades as a "gross violation of law."

"You well know that it would be unacceptable in any nation," he said.

The Nov. 27 declaration by Parliament - approved by 255 of the 429 legislators present - was not legally binding, but it was a clear demonstration of rising dissatisfaction with an election international observers said was marred by fraud. Kuchma acknowledged the parliamentary vote, but emphasized that it was a "political decision."

The opposition, however, saw it is a big boost to their fight.

"Most importantly, (the declaration's) character is political, moral, and ethical," Ivan Plyushch, a Yushchenko ally, told Ukraine's Inter television.

Parliament on Nov. 27 also passed a vote of no-confidence in the Central Election Commission, which declared Russian-backed Yanukovych the winner of the presidential runoff.

The crisis has exacerbated the stark divide between the pro-Russian, heavily industrialized eastern half of Ukraine, where Yanukovych draws his support, and the west, Yushchenko's stronghold including the capital Kyiv, which is a traditional center of Ukrainian nationalism.

Yanukovych's Party of Regions brought together 3,500 delegates from 17 eastern and southern Ukrainian regions for an urgent session Sunday in the town of Severodonetsk to discuss autonomy for much of eastern Ukraine. Yanukovych and Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov were expected to attend, the Interfax news agency reported.

Borys Kolesnikov, the head of the Donetsk region and a key ally of the prime minister, warned that a Yushchenko presidency "would prompt the establishment of a new federal state in the form of a southeastern republic with its capital in Kharkiv," close to the Russian border.

Yushchenko has said he wants a revote on Dec. 12 under the watch of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. He has also demanded that the current 15-person Central Election Commission be replaced.

Election commission head Serhiy Kivalov said Saturday he was not opposed to new voting, but said that "before such an emotional decision is taken, a commission must be created to analyze the work of the CEC," according to Ukraine's Unian news agency.

That position would be unlikely to please the Yushchenko camp, which wants to keep the protests' momentum going. Braving wet snow and sleet, thousands of protesters gathered around campfires in a sprawling tent camp along Kyiv's central Khreshchatyk Street and Independence Square. Field kitchens distributed hot food and tea.

An entire week in the open has taken its toll on many of the demonstrators, sparking long lines for cold pills and even some home remedies such as horseradish soaked in apple vinegar and honey.

"That is the best cure known and you will be fit in a minute," said Oksana Starodub, a retiree from Kyiv who was distributing the remedy.

Dutch Foreign Minister Ben Bot, speaking for the European Union, said in The Hague, Netherlands, that new elections were the "ideal outcome" to settle Ukraine's political crisis.

Russia also reportedly has said it would regard a potential revote favorably - an apparently significant retreat from its earlier insistence that the Nov. 21 elections were fair and valid.

In addition to the opposition's call for a revote and a change to the election commission, Yushchenko was also demanding that absentee balloting be prohibited, the candidates be given equal access to the media and that international observers participate.

Russia and the West are at odds over the political stalemate in Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin openly backed Yanukovych and congratulated him on his victory, while many Western nations, including the United States, say they don't recognize the vote results.

Yushchenko, whose wife is U.S.-born, says he wants to push the country to greater integration with Western Europe. His critics worry he will alienate Ukraine from Russia, its key trade partner and main energy supplier. Yanukovych was expected to pursue closer ties with Moscow.
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