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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Prospects for Change Uncertain in Ukraine

KIEV -- Prospects for a new government in politically troubled Ukraine remain distant despite nationwide protests this week by tens of thousands of people calling for President Leonid Kuchma's resignation or early elections.

Political tensions have been rising steadily since parliamentary elections this spring, in which Ukraine's most popular politician, former Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko, and other opposition leaders won most of the popular vote but failed to secure control of parliament. "If we don't dismantle the system, there will be no way out of the political crisis," Yushchenko said in an interview Tuesday.

According to Yushchenko, parliament is paralyzed due to an inability to form a working majority, as pro-Kuchma forces have exerted behind-the-scenes pressure on lawmakers to support the president. Pro-Kuchma forces are among the largest factions in parliament, making the likelihood of impeachment all the more slim.

An opinion poll last month showed that some 70 percent of Ukrainians support ousting Kuchma, whom many accuse of shameless corruption and crony capitalism. However, a convoluted, multitiered process for impeachment or early elections ensures that opposition forces have a difficult task ahead.

Yushchenko said he believes he is on the brink of securing a coalition with some pro-Kuchma forces that would avert the need for stepped-up protests.

Meanwhile, frustrated fringe opposition blocs such as the Communists and Socialists have resorted to organizing public protests in an effort to press Kuchma to resign or call new elections. Yushchenko, who prefers dialogue to confrontation, reluctantly threw his support behind the more radical groups a day before the protests.

Officially, the government supported the protesters' constitutional right to peaceful assembly, but it appeared to resort to strict measures to ensure the protests would not achieve the critical mass needed to secure their goals. "The authorities are afraid of two things -- transparency and being in the public view," Yushchenko said.

An unprecedented blackout of all television broadcasts until shortly before the protest was one sign that the government does not have full faith that the nation can withstand the forces of free speech and assembly. As protesters gathered Monday morning, many television channels were pulled off the air for what officials called routine maintenance. Some of the channels were back on the air by midafternoon, but opposition leaders called the blackout politically motivated.

Analysts believe the police crackdown will hurt Ukraine's chances of deeper ties with Europe. "Speaking of human rights aspects, we had and will continue to face even more problems. The authorities made their choice," said Anatoly Hrytsenko, director of the Razumkov Center for Economic and Political Studies.