The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Ukraine talks hope fades

Kiev, Nov. 30 (Reuters): Ukraine's Opposition today pulled out of talks to try to end a confrontation over last week's disputed presidential election and vowed to use 'people power' to secure victory.

The move crushed earlier optimism outgoing President Leonid Kuchma might back a compromise to resolve the standoff over the election of his protege and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich as successor through what the Opposition says was a rigged poll.

As the crisis deepened, top mediators from the EU, Poland, Lithuania and Russia were due to fly in for talks tomorrow. 'The authorities, Kuchma and Yanukovich, used the talks to cheat,' Opposition leader Taras Stetskyv told thousands of supporters of losing presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko in central Kiev.

'That is why the Committee for National Salvation (Opposition group) has decided to pull out of the talks. We are stopping talks with the authorities. We will talk with them only from the position of people power.'

Earlier, Opposition protesters massed outside parliament after the Assembly failed to proceed with a motion to dismiss Yanukovich and his government.

The parliament speaker appealed to crowds not to storm the building, promising a decision tomorrow. Many heeded an Opposition leader's call to disperse.

The standoff has threatened to break apart the country, independent for just 13 years and lying between an expanded EU and its centuries-long master, Russia.

President Kuchma, his 10-year rule tarnished by scandal and poor economic management, had earlier suggested he might bow to mounting pressure at home and abroad to allow a fresh presidential poll.

It was not clear, though, whether he would agree to Opposition demands and allow its candidate Yushchenko to contest a new run-off, or insist on the process restarting from scratch.

Russia, which had backed Yanukovich, seemed to come round to the idea of a fresh vote. Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said they would respect the outcome of any new poll, according to a German government statement.

Thousands of Yushchenko supporters pressed on with their week-old protests in Kiev to demand that the November 21 election results be overturned.

Demonstrators in Yanukovich's stronghold of eastern Ukraine have denounced bids to overturn his victory and issued calls for 'autonomy', which liberals say is camouflage for separatism. Though the official winner, Yanukovich has seen his political fortunes decline as the feud has worsened. He has been unable to shake off charges that he won by cheating and some analysts believe that if there is a new poll, Kuchma will drop him for someone else.

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