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Ukrainian Opposition Bolstered

No-Confidence Vote Is Defeat For Premier

By Daniel Williams
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, December 2, 2004; Page A23

KIEV, Ukraine, Dec. 1 -- The Ukrainian parliament voted Wednesday to dismiss the government headed by Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, handing the opposition a victory in its campaign to overturn the results of a presidential runoff in which Yanukovych was initially declared the winner.

Several hours after the vote of no confidence in the government, the opposition leader, Viktor Yushchenko, decided to pull back tens of thousands of supporters who had been blocking government offices. The move appeared to be a gesture toward his rival's camp, but the crisis here continues to paralyze Ukraine, and there are concerns about economic as well as political stability.

Supporters of Ukraine's prime minister, Viktor Yanukovych, who had been declared the winner of the presidential vote, wave a flag during a rally in Donetsk. (Viktor Korotayev -- Reuters)

_____Live Discussion_____
Live, 11 a.m. ET: Dr. Anders Aslund, director of the Russian and Eurasian Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, will discuss the ongoing standoff.
A Divided Country
_____Election Protests_____
Photo Gallery: Parliament celebrates after issuing a no-confidence vote. Thousands of Ukrainians take to the streets to protest the country's election results.
_____News From Ukraine_____
Opposition Quits Talks In Ukraine Ballot Crisis (The Washington Post, Dec 1, 2004)
Ukraine's President Calls for New Vote (The Washington Post, Nov 30, 2004)
Old Divisions Resurface in Ukraine (The Washington Post, Nov 29, 2004)
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On Wednesday, the candidates held talks along with foreign negotiators, including the presidents of Poland and Lithuania, and representatives from Russia and the European Union. Ukraine's president, Leonid Kuchma, who did not run for reelection, also attended the negotiations. Officials said the meeting ended with Yushchenko's agreement to ease the government blockade, and both sides signed a preliminary accord for a possible new vote.

Javier Solana, foreign policy chief for the E.U., said that the talks could lead to new elections but that changes to the Ukrainian constitution might be required.

"You may start thinking of a little bit over a month for all these things to be in place," Solana told reporters following the negotiations.

At stake in the standoff are opposing visions for the former Soviet republic and its place in the world. While Yushchenko favors links with NATO and the European Union, Yanukovych, who was initially declared the winner in the Nov. 21 runoff, sees Ukraine's destiny tied to Russia, which supported him and congratulated him on his victory before he was certified as the winner.

International monitors have said the elections were plagued by widespread fraud. The United States and the E.U. support Yushchenko's call for a new ballot.

The Supreme Court met for a third day Wednesday to consider claims of election fraud. The court is empowered to invalidate local results but not the overall national election. The Central Elections Commission had initially declared Yanukovych the victor, but Yushchenko supporters alleged there had been ballot-stuffing. Yanukovych, in turn, asserted widespread fraud by Yushchenko's supporters in Kiev and western Ukraine, the opposition leader's bases of support.

After the vote, tens of thousands of opposition supporters, identified by scarves and other garb in the campaign's orange color, clogged the streets of Kiev, the capital. Since then, they have held daily vigils at central squares and government buildings, calling their effort the "orange revolution."

On Wednesday, Yushchenko's backers celebrated the no-confidence vote against Yanukovych, streaming through the snow-covered city, honking car horns and waving banners. Thousands had gathered outside parliament, chanting and cheering the result. The no-confidence motion passed with 229 votes, just three more than necessary in Ukraine's 450-seat parliament.

"It is an important and serious victory, but there is still a lot to be done," said Mykola Tomenko, a member of parliament who supports Yushchenko. He spoke to demonstrators at Kiev's Independence Square, the main gathering site for Yushchenko followers since the election.

Yushchenko, also addressing supporters at the square, said his decision to pull back from government buildings was a "good compromise." He did not, however, withdraw his endorsement of demonstrations.

"Protests in the streets will, of course, continue," Yushchenko said. "They would be lifted only after a date is set for a new election and changes introduced into the election law."

Some political observers said a decision to tone down protests could slow the opposition campaign's momentum. Yushchenko "doesn't understand that his backers want core change. It is more than just the defeat of Yanukovych," said Volodymir Polokhalo, editor of Political Thought magazine.

"He is buying time to maneuver," Polokhalo said.

Following the parliamentary vote, it was not clear whether Kuchma would dismiss the government, although it is his constitutional duty to do so, Polokhalo said. He said Kuchma could allow the Yanukovych government to stay in power for up to 60 days while a caretaker government is formed. Kuchma will "act within the framework of the constitution," a presidential spokesman said.

Yanukovych skipped the parliamentary session, saying he was suffering from a fever, but he showed up later at the negotiations between his camp and Yushchenko's and shook hands with his rival afterward. He released a statement calling parliament's action on Wednesday "political" and illegal.

U.S. and E.U. officials have sought to avoid disagreements with Russia in the Ukraine crisis.

"The situation that came out after the elections should not be characterized as a West versus East rivalry, but an issue of democracy and respect for people's will," NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said in a speech in Rome.

Meanwhile, a regional assembly in eastern Ukraine, a Yanukovych stronghold, decided Wednesday that it would hold a referendum on Jan. 9 to seek autonomy from the country's central government. Yanukovych's supporters have warned that Yushchenko's demand for a new vote could threaten Ukrainian unity. De Hoop Scheffer said Ukraine's territorial integrity remained of "vital interest" to NATO.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company