Ukraine's outgoing president will meet Friday with opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko in the presence of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and European envoys in a bid to solve a political crisis over the country's disputed election, a European Union (new
November 26, 2004.
Although he was bringing together the opposing sides, outgoing President Leonid Kuchma also called for an end to the mass demonstrations by Yushchenko's supporters, who claim that Sunday's presidential runoff election won by Yanukovych was marked by massive fraud.
"Any revolution must end in peace," Kuchma said in a televised statement. "The sooner this so-called revolution ends, the better it will be for the Ukrainian people."
The meeting will include European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus, said Solana's spokeswoman, Christina Gallach.
The envoys arrived Friday in Ukraine, which has been engulfed in a political standoff over the election. Western countries, including the United States, also have criticized the vote as seriously flawed. Kuchma's government certified the Kremlin-backed Yanukovych as the winner, but Yushchenko claims fraud robbed him of his victory.
Kuchma thanked the envoys for "making every effort so that these negotiations take place not on the street — which can never give a positive result — but around a negotiating table," the Interfax news agency quoted him as saying after a meeting with Solana and Kwasniewski.
"The situation is more than difficult," Kwasniewski later told journalists.
In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the Kremlin was concerned by the West's attempts to influence events in Ukraine, "especially when some European capitals say that they don't accept the elections and their next thesis is that Ukraine must be with the West"
"The Ukrainian people must decide who Ukraine wants to be with, and such statements make you think that somebody really wants to draw new dividing lines in Europe," Lavrov said.
The talks were to take place against the background of an opposition blockade of the Cabinet of Ministers building and presidential administration building, which was heavily guarded by ranks of police in riot gear.
Thousands of opposition supporters surrounded the buildings, refusing to let anyone through as they intensified protests against the outcome of the elections. The protesters have set up a sprawling tent camp in Kiev, braving freezing temperatures for five straight nights.
Yanukovych, meanwhile, rallied thousands of his supporters — waving his blue-and-white campaign flags — in front of Kiev's train station.
"I don't need power at the cost of spilled blood," Yanukovych said in remarks broadcast on the pro-Yanukovych TRK Ukraine television. "For me, there are no my people and strangers, no bad people and good people. All people are equal for me."
Russian President Vladimir Putin (news - web sites) all but publicly endorsed Yanukovych, and underlined his support by visiting Ukraine on the eve of both the initial vote and Sunday's runoff. He has twice congratulated Yanukovych on his victory but on Thursday said the election dispute should be settled in the courts, not in the streets.
Moscow considers Ukraine part of its sphere of influence and a buffer between Russia and NATO (news - web sites)'s eastern flank. The United States and the European Union have said they cannot accept the results and warned Ukraine of "consequences" in relations with the West.
On Friday, Moldova said it does not recognize the results of the election in Ukraine, putting the former Soviet republic at odds with Putin.
"Moldova expresses concern about the non-transparency of the voting process," Moldova's Foreign Ministry said. It said the "fundamental principles of democracy are distorted in Ukraine."
The Western-leaning Yushchenko had previously said he would only negotiate with Kuchma, and he said the main condition for holding talks would be the president's acknowledgment that the election was invalid.
In Chernihiv, about 80 miles north of Kiev, police fired smoke canisters over the heads of a pro-Yushchenko crowd after someone threw an "explosive packet" at a police cordon outside the mayor's office, said police spokeswoman Raisa Deikun. Two policemen were hospitalized, she said. It was not immediately clear what thrown explosive was. Deikun said the protesters had been trying to seize the mayor's office.
The report cited him as saying that ambulances were on the scene, but there were no details available on any injuries.
In Kiev, protesters standing five deep and linking arms blockaded the Cabinet building and refused to let staff enter, heeding a call Thursday by Yushchenko's popular and more radical ally Yuliya Tymoshenko. Police were packed into about 12 buses nearby.
Protesters also blocked all surrounding streets with buses and vans decorated with Yushchenko's orange flags, posters and ribbons. In an alley 1,000 feet away from them, special forces had parked about 30 trucks and jeeps.
The Supreme Court on Thursday ordered that the Central Election Commission's final tally not be published pending the outcome of an appeal against the results filed by the opposition candidate's camp. The appeal will be heard Monday, and Yanukovych cannot be inaugurated until results are published.
Although Yanukovych enjoys the backing of Kuchma, Ukraine's Supreme Court is respected as an unbiased body that hasn't hesitated in the past to rule against the government, said Igor Zdanov, a political analyst with the Kiev-based Razumkov think tank.
Yushchenko praised the decision but told the crowd, "This is only the beginning."
On Thursday, his campaign chief Oleksandr Zinchenko announced that the opposition-formed National Salvation Committee — a kind of parallel government — would establish national self-defense organizations and take responsibility for defending the Ukrainian Constitution.
Tymoshenko has called on opposition supporters to seize power by surrounding government buildings, blocking railways and other transportation links.
Yanukovych said late Thursday, "I don't see any possibility for resolving this conflict by the path of ultimatums ... we should sit at the negotiating table," news agencies reported.
The crisis has threatened to further divide the former Soviet republic of 48 million people and raised the prospect of civil conflict. Yanukovych drew his support from the pro-Russian, heavily industrialized eastern half of Ukraine. Yushchenko's strength was in the west, a traditional center of nationalism.
On Thursday, Yushchenko supporters set up a barricade of logs and burning tires along a main western road leading from the city of Lviv to the Polish border.
"We are doing this for our president, Yushchenko," said Maria Cherkas, standing at the roadblock.
Associated Press Writer