- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 5, 2007

KIEV — President Viktor Yushchenko threatened his rival yesterday with criminal charges if he refuses to prepare for early parliamentary elections next month, suggesting that the Ukrainian leader was losing patience in the deepening political crisis.

Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych remained defiant, however, vowing to first wait for a ruling from the Constitutional Court on the legality of the dissolution order. He also called for the involvement of a European mediator to defuse the crisis — Ukraine’s worst since its 2004 Orange Revolution, which swept Mr. Yushchenko into power.

The court said it would issue a decision within one month of opening its hearings but did not announce when they would start.

Mr. Yushchenko has been reluctant to leave the matter in the hands of the 18-judge court and has been pressing Mr. Yanukovych to make a political decision and accept the elections.

“I stress again that this order is binding,” Mr. Yushchenko said as he opened a session of the presidential National Security and Defense Council. “Failing to fulfill it will result in criminal charges.”

The battle for power between the president and the prime minister began Monday when Mr. Yushchenko signed an order to dissolve parliament and call early elections. Mr. Yanukovych and his majority coalition said the order was illegal and refused to abide by it.

Yesterday, Mr. Yanukovych’s coalition partners, the Communists, called for a nationwide strike next week, and thousands of Yanukovych supporters rallied outside the Central Election Commission to demand it halt preparations for the May 27 vote.

The security council gave Mr. Yanukovych — who controls Ukraine’s budget — until tomorrow to release funds to pay for the election, a deadline he said was impossible. He also said Mr. Yushchenko should instead “take his order off the table” and return to negotiations.

Mr. Yanukovych said he had asked Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer to mediate. There was no immediate response from Mr. Gusenbauer.

The dispute between the pro-Western Mr. Yushchenko and the Russian-leaning Mr. Yanukovych echoes their struggle in the bitter 2004 presidential race and subsequent Orange Revolution — only with the roles seemingly reversed.

During the Orange Revolution, Mr. Yushchenko’s supporters erected a tent city in Kiev’s Independence Square and remained there for weeks in freezing temperatures to protest Mr. Yanukovych’s fraud-tainted victory. Mr. Yushchenko appealed Mr. Yanukovych’s victory to the Supreme Court, which threw the win out and ordered a new vote, which Mr. Yushchenko won.

Mr. Yanukovych returned as prime minister in August 2006 after his party won the most votes in a parliamentary election and put together a majority coalition. Under new constitutional changes, the parliamentary majority became the authority who could nominate the prime minister, forcing Mr. Yushchenko into an awkward power-sharing arrangement.

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