| Supporters of Opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko (left) and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich argue in Kiev. (AFP)
Kiev, Nov. 26 (Reuters): Ukraine's feuding presidential contenders sat down today with European and Russian mediators to try to end a crisis over a disputed election that has led to mass street protests and pushed the country towards civil conflict.
'It is our hope that if all participants show the desire and the will, a compromise will clearly be found,' outgoing Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma told the meeting in the presidential Mariinsky Palace.
The meeting, involving one of Europe's top trouble-shooters and a trusted lieutenant of Russian President Vladimir Putin, reflected the high-level stakes for East and West in the future of former Soviet Ukraine.
It followed a fifth straight day of mass street protests in the capital Kiev by supporters of West-leaning Opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko who says the victory of Moscow-backed Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich in a Sunday election was rigged.
Supporters of Yushchenko, who says he was the real winner, blocked official buildings and challenged the government's control of the country. Yanukovich hit back at Yushchenko appealing to his followers to avert an 'unconstitutional coup'.
'Dear friends, together we must do everything so that an unconstitutional coup in Ukraine does not happen,' Yanukovich told thousands of his own supporters chanting his name.
Most were young men brought to Kiev by train from the Donbass coalfield in his power base ' the Russian-speaking east of the country. Some were clearly drunk.
Yanukovich referred to Yushchenko as a 'pesky cat' ' the name of a Soviet-era cartoon character ' saying he challenged his rival to show up at the talks.
Apart from the two rivals and Kuchma, the other participants were EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and Russian parliament speaker Boris Gryzlov.
Cristina Gallach, spokeswoman for Solana, said of the meeting with the two candidates: 'The intention is to signal the beginning of a political dialogue.'
Kuchma, hosting the meeting at his Mariinsky Palace, had called earlier in the day for an end to the 'so-called revolution' ' the mass rallies backing the Opposition hopeful.
'Calm your passions. Any revolution must end with peace. The sooner this revolution, this so-called revolution, is over, the better it will be for the people whose fate concerns us so much,' Kuchma declared.