- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 1, 2004

KIEV — Opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko broke off talks with the government yesterday and vowed to speak with “people power” only, accusing outgoing President Leonid Kuchma of using negotiations as a ruse to steal disputed presidential elections.

Crowds of opposition demonstrations, which have maintained an around-the-clock vigil on the streets of the capital, attempted to storm parliament earlier, only to be stopped with an appeal for calm from the opposition.

International negotiators began returning to Kiev in an attempt to defuse the crisis that began with the disputed presidential election runoff on Nov. 21.

“Kuchma and Yanukovych used the negotiating process to deceive the nation,” said opposition lawmaker Taras Stetskiv in explaining the decision to cut off talks with Mr. Kuchma and his handpicked successor, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.

“We will talk with them only from the position of people power,” the lawmaker told throngs of opposition protesters at Kiev’s Independence Square.

Ukraine’s Supreme Court continued to hear for the second day an appeal from the opposition about vote rigging in the runoff, which placed Mr. Yanukovych as the winner over opposition leader Mr. Yushchenko by 2.85 percentage points.

Mr. Yushchenko’s attorney’s cited turnout of more than 100 percent in hundreds of precincts in Yanukovych strongholds of Donetsk and Luhansk.

International support for a rerun of the election also gathered force after a phone conversation between German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who said the crisis should be solved without foreign pressure.

During a joint press conference with Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin in Ottawa, President Bush said: “Our common goal is to see the will of the Ukrainian people prevail.”

Governors from eastern Ukraine also seemed to pull the country from the brink of dissolution when they announced that they no longer supported a separation referendum, which had been planned for Sunday.

“No one spoke about autonomy, we spoke about a method,” Donetsk Gov. Anatoliy Bliznyuk told reporters. He said a referendum on establishing a republic within a federative Ukraine could be held in two months.

Javier Solana, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, was expected to arrive in Kiev last night. Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, as well as Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus and Boris Gryzlov, a close ally of Mr. Putin’s, are to take part in talks today between the two rival candidates.

All were involved in last week’s negotiations.

Mr. Putin told Mr. Schroeder that “an exit from the crisis should be found in a democratic way, that is, on the basis of observing the law and not under external or internal pressure based on political passions,” according to the Kremlin’s press service.

Despite the Kremlin’s publicly distanced attitude, many observers here blame the election fiasco partly on Mr. Putin’s open support for Mr. Yanukovych.

“We are on the doorstep of social discontent,” Volodymyr Lytvyn, the parliament speaker, told lawmakers. “It seems we are reacting to a scenario written by others.”

Russia considers Ukraine a key ally and a buffer between former Eastern European nations that have joined NATO.

“The election was rigged,” Mr. Yushchenko was quoted by the Associated Press as saying yesterday. “People are asking whether this country has a political elite capable of upholding a fair vote.”

Yesterday, Mr. Yanukovych said he favored a rerun of the vote if fraud was proved.

Protesters tried to storm the parliament building yesterday after lawmakers attempted to rescind a resolution they passed Sunday, which labeled the Nov. 21 presidential vote invalid.

Jumping over each other, some demonstrators reached as far as the parliament’s lobby before they were pushed back by police.

Speaking from a platform outside the building shortly thereafter, Mr. Lytvyn managed to restore calm.

“I appeal to protesters. Don’t storm parliament. It is the last pillar of democracy. Tomorrow, we will make a decision that will satisfy all of Ukraine.”

Until now, the demonstrations have been peaceful. But after nine days of standing in the bitter cold, the patience of some protesters is beginning to fray.

“People are tired of the talks,” said Andriy Koroviy, a student from the western Ukrainian city of Lviv. “They want action.”

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