- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 5, 2004

KIEV — Opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko went on the offensive yesterday, urging protesters to remain on the streets after parliament blocked measures to prevent ballot-box stuffing in a court-ordered Dec. 26 presidential election.

The setback for Mr. Yushchenko came one day after the Supreme Court declared the November presidential runoff election invalid and ordered a new vote the day after Christmas.

“Today, we are in the final decision of this conflict,” Mr. Yushchenko said, speaking to hundreds of thousands of orange-clad supporters — his largest public display of support since Ukraine’s political crisis began 13 days ago. Orange has become the color of his opposition campaign.

“The number one problem of this country isn’t its resources. … It is its authority,” Mr. Yushchenko said in an impassioned 43-minute address in Kiev’s Independence Square.

“We have a criminal regime. … We need to change the government,” he said.

Mr. Yushchenko’s rival for the presidency, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, said through his press secretary he would participate in the new voting, putting to rest speculation he might withdraw from the race.

Earlier in the day, parliament rejected a package of reforms designed to prevent a repeat of the massive fraud that marred the Nov. 21 election between the two rivals.

Parliament also rejected a series of constitutional changes that would have reduced the president’s powers.

Mr. Yushchenko has urged hundreds of thousands of his supporters to continue their 13-day-old protest in Kiev’s main square until parliament passes the election reforms debated yesterday.

But a planned marathon weekend session of parliament abruptly adjourned for 10 days without approving the measures.

The standoff in parliament was interpreted by some as a payback by pro-government lawmakers who were angered by the Supreme Court decision.

The opposition has demanded the resignation of Ukraine’s Central Election Commission, which the Supreme Court blamed for electoral machinations.

President Leonid Kuchma said a new round of international mediation was necessary, making the plea during a phone conversation with Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the European Union.

“The opposition isn’t fulfilling practically any of the agreements,” the president’s office said in a statement. “That exacerbates the situation in the country.”

Up to 2.8 million suspect ballots were cast, according to Ukrainian observer groups. In many districts in eastern Ukraine, a Yanukovych stronghold, voter turnout exceeded 100 percent.

The government-opposition talks with European mediators are to continue tomorrow, with Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski; Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus; the European Union’s foreign-policy chief, Javier Solana; and Russia’s parliament speaker, Boris Gryzlov, serving as mediators.

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