The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Ukraine standoff talks at standstill

Kiev, Nov. 28 (Reuters): Talks to end Ukraine's presidential election standoff are going badly, the outgoing President said today while the country seethed with street rallies and threatened to break apart over the crisis.

'As I understand, the (working group) talks are going on with considerable difficulty. No one can say what sort of compromise can be found or whether one will be found at all,' President Leonid Kuchma said.

'But I believe ... that a compromise is very necessary for Ukraine,' he said opening the meeting of the National Security and Defence Council.

In the capital Kiev, tens of thousands of supporters of opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko rallied again, undaunted by freezing drizzle. Yushchenko told them talk of autonomy in eastern regions loyal to his opponent threatened national unity.

The formal winner of last week's election, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, told a rally of his supporters in the east of the country that the rowdy but so far peaceful protests had brought Ukraine to the edge of disaster.

'As Prime Minister, I say that today we are on the brink of catastrophe. There is one step to the edge,' he told a packed hall in Severodonetsk.

'Do not take any radical steps. I repeat, none...When the first drop of blood is spilled, we will not be able to stop it.'

Later in Severodonetsk, local leaders from eastern regions voted unanimously today in favour of holding a referendum on their 'regional status', a euphemism for autonomy from the capital Kiev.

The leaders, delegates at a regional congress, all raised their hands in favour of 'a referendum to be held in December this year to determine the status of the region'.

Any move towards autonomy for the east is anathema to nationalists and liberals 13 years after the country won independence from the Soviet Union.

Passions rose following yesterday's symbolic parliamentary vote declaring a November 21 run-off election invalid. Parliament noted widespread fraud in the vote handing victory to Yanukovich.

Parliament cannot overturn the election result but it did boost Yushchenko's bid to force a fresh poll.

He says he was cheated of victory a week ago by mass fraud. 'The authorities ... are playing the dangerous card of separatism ... Those who are calling for separatism are committing crimes and will definitely receive severe punishment,' Yushchenko said.

A Supreme Court hearing tomorrow will consider Yushchenko's complaints of poll irregularities. The court has banned publication of the count handing victory to Yanukovich, thus blocking his inauguration. Yushchenko, 50, has already said he stands for a new vote on December 12.

But Yanukovich, 54 and strongly backed by Russia, has yet to say whether he is ready for a re-run, as advocated by the European Union.

The crisis has dramatised a long-standing divide between Ukraine's nationalist west, supporting Yushchenko, and the industrial Russian-speaking east solidly behind the Premier. The Russian-speaking regions of the east provide the economic muscle of the country.

Romania poll

Romanians went to the polls today to decide who will lead the Balkan country through a series of tough reforms set by the European Union.

Voters trickled in at 17,000 polling stations from the snow-covered Carpathians to the Black Sea, to choose between the ruling Social Democrat Party and a centrist alliance of the Liberal and Democrat parties.

Today's twin election to replace veteran President Ion Iliescu and elect a new parliament is the most hotly contested vote since the 1989 collapse of communism, analysts say.

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