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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Talks on Election Dispute Collapse

ReutersProtesters trying to storm the parliament building Tuesday after lawmakers moved to reverse their invalidation of the election.
KIEV — Ukraine's opposition on Tuesday pulled out of talks to try to end a confrontation over the disputed presidential election and vowed to use "people power" to secure victory.

Regional leaders in eastern Ukraine backpedaled on threats to resist central rule if opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko is declared president.

The collapse of talks crushed earlier optimism that outgoing President Leonid Kuchma might back a compromise to resolve the standoff over the election of his protege, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.

"The authorities, Kuchma and Yanukovych, used the talks to cheat," opposition leader Taras Stetskyv told tens of thousands of supporters on Independence Square.

"That is why the Committee for National Salvation has decided to pull out of the talks," he said, referring to an opposition group. "We are stopping talks with the authorities. We will talk with them only from the position of people power."

The talks began last week and were being mediated by European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski. Solana was to arrive in Kiev on Tuesday night for another round of talks Wednesday with Kwasniewski, Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus and State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov.

Kuchma said Monday that he would support a new vote to pull Ukraine out of the crisis.

In an apparent bid to compromise, Yanukovych said that if he becomes president, he will offer Yushchenko the post of prime minister. But Yushchenko quickly dismissed the offer, saying he wanted to focus on alleged vote fraud.

"The election was rigged," he said. "People are asking whether this country has a political elite capable of upholding a fair vote."

Yanukovych has said he would support a re-vote if allegations of fraud are proven — but that he had yet to see such proof. On Tuesday, he even suggested he could withdraw from the race if his rival did — an idea Yushchenko would also probably reject.

The risk of Ukraine splitting seemed to dissipate after the eastern Donetsk region said it would not hold its referendum on self-rule as planned Sunday. The Kharkiv regional legislature also retracted its threat to introduce self-rule.

Donetsk Governor Anatoly Bliznyuk said his region was seeking "not autonomy, but to become a republic within Ukraine." He said the referendum would be held within the next two months.

In parliament, Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn criticized "many state, regional and local officials in the east and south of the country for inciting separatism … and unconstitutional and illegal aspirations for independence and autonomy."

Parliament failed to pass a vote of no confidence in the government. Only 196 of the 410 lawmakers present supported the measure — less than the 226 votes needed.

Lawmakers later tentatively approved a measure that would have annulled Saturday's nonbinding decision declaring the election invalid.

But angry opposition protesters tried to storm the building, and Lytvyn adjourned the session until Wednesday, promising that parliament would not cancel its previous decision.

The Supreme Court continued to hear an opposition appeal to annul the results of the Nov. 21 election, which put Yanukovych ahead by 871,402 votes. Under Ukrainian law, the court cannot rule on the overall results but can declare results invalid in individual precincts.

The appeal focuses on results from eight eastern and southern regions with more than 15 million votes, almost half of the total cast in the runoff.

Yushchenko's lawyers cited turnout of above 100 percent in hundreds of precincts in Donetsk and Luhansk, problems with voting lists, and multiple voting with absentee ballots. The opposition also asked the court to name Yushchenko the winner based on his winning a narrow plurality of the votes in the first round on Oct. 31.

Kuchma's support for a rerun of the election indicated the government had felt the mounting pressure. The West has refused to recognize the election results, while Russia — which still yields considerable influence over Ukraine — congratulated Yanukovych and complained of Western meddling.

Speaking by telephone, President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Gerhard Schr?der said they would respect the outcome of any new vote, the German government said in a statement Tuesday. A Kremlin statement made no mention of a new vote.

"Their conversation addressed, in particular, the question of how to find a political solution, assuring Ukraine's territorial integrity and both parties' ability to enter into talks," the German statement said.

"The chancellor and the Russian president were in agreement that the results of a new election, based on Ukrainian law and the will of the Ukrainian people, would be strictly respected."

Gryzlov warned on Tuesday that Ukraine was heading for breakup or bloodshed over the election deadlock.

A human rights group on Tuesday said regional governments in eastern Ukraine were harassing independent media covering the crisis following disputed presidential elections.

The Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe's representative on media freedom, Miklos Haraszti, appealed to the government to ensure freedom of the press.

Haraszti said broadcasts of Channel 5, a station owned by a key ally of Yushchenko, had been blocked in the Uzhgorod, Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv regions. These eastern regions have supported Yanukovych.

Another station, TV Era, also told the human rights watchdog that state authorities in Lugansk and Donetsk had halted its broadcasts.

Police in Lugansk confiscated 35,000 issues of another pro-opposition newsletter, the OSCE's statement said. Journalists covering a rally were beaten in the same city, the OSCE said.

The OSCE also said it had reports from Donetsk that correspondents for ARD, Reuters, Ukrinform and the local newspaper Salon Dona i Basa were assaulted while reporting from a local political rally.

(AP, Reuters)