- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 7, 2004

KIEV — Ukraine’s warring political factions yesterday agreed on a package of electoral reforms to govern a rerun of last month’s fraud-ridden presidential election, but remained divided over a proposal to trim the powers of the president.

Six hours of talks that ended early today failed to break the impasse between Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Moscow favorite of outgoing President Leonid Kuchma, and West-leaning opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko.

Mr. Kuchma said this morning he had agreed to support a number of electoral reforms and to fire the country’s central election commission, widely blamed for failing to halt the irregularities and fraud in the Nov. 21 vote, in which Mr. Yanukovych appeared to narrowly win.

But Mr. Kuchma said no deal had been reached on two key issues — whether Mr. Yanukovych’s government would be dismissed ahead of the vote, and the proposed constitutional changes to trim the president’s powers.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, backed away from what had been unrelenting support for Mr. Yanukovych by declaring he would work with whoever wins the new balloting scheduled for Dec. 26.

A team of European mediators had been meeting with Mr. Kuchma and the two candidates in an effort to end Ukraine’s political quagmire, which has brought tens of thousands of protesters into the streets of Kiev.

Ukraine’s Supreme Court last week voided the result of last month’s runoff vote, saying it did not reflect the will of the people, and ordered a new election for the day after Christmas.

The reform package, which was being debated intensely in Parliament, represents a compromise between the opposition, which had sought measures to reduce the possibility of fraud in the new round of elections, and government supporters who had insisted on shifting some presidential powers to parliament.

Parliamentary factions representing the two candidates appeared to have struck a compromise earlier in the day, but the failure to reach a full agreement in the talks with Mr. Kuchma cast doubt on that deal.

Mr. Kuchma made clear before yesterday’s marathon bargaining session that he would accept electoral reform only if the issue was packaged with constitutional reform to diminish the powers of future presidents.

Mr. Yanukovych, for his part, took a swing at both the government and the opposition yesterday, indicating the former had betrayed him.

A visibly upset Mr. Yanukovych said he was taking leave from his post as prime minister, but asked that his Cabinet not be dismissed until after the election.

He announced that his campaign for the Dec. 26 vote would be managed by Taras Chornovil, the son of a highly regarded pro-democracy fighter who died in a mysterious car crash several years ago.

Serhei Tihipko, his former campaign manager and central bank chief, resigned last week and has left the country, according to press reports.

Mr. Putin, who had twice visited Kiev during the earlier campaign to support Mr. Yanu- kovych, made his first comments about Friday’s Supreme Court decision during a trip to Turkey.

“We accept … the wishes of any nation in the post-Soviet territory and will work with any elected leader,” the Russian Information Agency Novosti quoted him as saying.

Mr. Putin also said Russia would try to help resolve Ukraine’s political crisis without interfering in its affairs.

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