KIEV — Opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko yesterday demanded a new presidential election be held after a face-to-face meeting with rival Viktor Yanukovych failed to resolve Ukraine’s bitter weeklong political standoff.
Turning up the heat on the government-backed Mr. Yanukovych, Mr. Yushchenko told cheering supporters after the nearly three-hour meeting he opposed a proposal to refer charges of massive fraud in Sunday’s election to the Supreme Court.
“We will only hold talks on staging a new vote,” Mr. Yushchenko said.
Moments earlier, outgoing President Leonid Kuchma announced he would preside over a working group, including key European envoys who have converged on Kiev, to seek a solution to the crisis and head off growing fears of violence.
Massive streets protests and charges of fraud in the Nov. 21 vote have roiled this strategically placed country, the largest state to break from Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and put Moscow and Washington on a collision course over Ukraine’s future.
In Crawford, Texas, President Bush warned yesterday the world “is watching very closely” as Ukraine tries to sort through the fraud charges.
U.S. and European Union officials contend that massive fraud marred the presidential runoff election, in which Mr. Yanukovych, the pro-Moscow prime minister, narrowly edged Mr. Yushchenko. Ukraine’s Supreme Court ordered election officials not to publish the results until an appeal is heard on Monday.
Ukraine’s parliament is also set to meet today to consider the disputed election and what to do next. Lawmakers cannot overturn last Sunday’s vote, but could have an effect on the court hearing next week.
“There’s just a lot of allegations of vote fraud that placed the result of the election in doubt,” Mr. Bush said. “… People are paying very close attention to this and, hopefully, it will be resolved in a way that brings credit and confidence to the Ukrainian government.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin all but endorsed Mr. Yanukovych before the vote and congratulated the prime minister on his apparent victory.
The Russian foreign ministry yesterday hinted it may support a re-run of the election, but Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov again questioned the motives of Western governments in the crisis.
“In some European capitals, there are some forces that are attempting to draw some new border lines across Europe,” Mr. Lavrov said.
Mr. Yushchenko warned he would fight any stalling tactics by his opponent.
“If we see that Viktor Yanukovych is playing for time, we are going to take active measures,” he told supporters. “If a decision isn’t reached in one or two days, it means that Viktor Yanukovych doesn’t hear you.”
The challenger demanded a new election on Dec. 12, the creation of a new central election commission and equal access to the press for both candidates.