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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kuchma Refuses to Meet Opposition

KIEV -- Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has refused to meet with opposition representatives demanding his resignation, intensifying the country's growing political conflict, an opposition leader said Wednesday.

Tens of thousands of protesters marched through Ukraine on Monday to demand Kuchma's resignation and early elections.

Anatoly Matviyenko, the leader of the opposition Sobor party, requested a meeting with Kuchma to hand him the opposition's resolution and discuss the demands.

Kuchma's chief of staff, Viktor Medvedchuk, said that the resolution was "offensive" and that Kuchma would not discuss it with anyone, according to Matviyenko, who said he had spoken with Medvedchuk by telephone.

However, Medvedchuk said later Wednesday that Kuchma was prepared to talk with the opposition, but only for a civilized exchange of opinions.

"I'd like to point out that the style and words of the appeal don't only offend the president personally, but express disrespect toward the government's authority," the presidential press service quoted Medvedchuk as saying.

Matviyenko sharply criticized Kuchma's refusal to meet with him.

"If he is Ukraine's president, his duties, not sympathies, should guide him in his actions," Matviyenko said in an interview.

Kuchma was accompanying Romanian President Ion Iliescu in the southern port city of Odessa on Wednesday and expected to return to Kiev on Thursday.

The refusal was likely to strengthen the tension between authorities and opposition politicians, who accuse pro-Kuchma forces of fraud in recent parliamentary elections.

Opposition parties ranging from ultra-leftist to reformist joined forces to organize a joint nationwide anti-Kuchma protest Monday. They claimed a turnout of about 1 million people.

Police officials were not ready to confirm that figure.

The largest turnouts were reported in Kiev, where at least 20,000 took part, and in the western city of Lviv with 12,000 people.

The crowds marched through downtown Kiev shouting "Away with Kuchma!" and set up a camp of some 167 tents around the presidential administration.

On Tuesday, riot police tore down the camp before dawn, clashing with protesters.

Police said that they detained 64 young people, while opposition leaders said more than 140 people were detained.

"We're all learning democracy and the means of expressing our disagreement," Kuchma told the Austrian Der Standard newspaper on Tuesday. "The fact that a peaceful demonstration took place is a positive sign for all of us."

Kuchma did not comment on the clash at the tent camp.

Another anti-Kuchma protest is planned for Tuesday and is expected to again draw large crowds.