Sun, Nov 28, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Pressure for new election mounts

UKRAINE Parliament's upper house declared invalid last week's election, which the opposition says was stolen, while the EU also said it supports new polls

AFP , KIEV

Ukraine's parliament yesterday declared the nation's disputed presidential election invalid and called for the dissolution of the central election commission in an overall non-binding resolution.

The resolution, carried by a vote of 307 to one with 106 abstentions, is a symbolic victory for the pro-Western opposition two days before Ukraine's supreme court begins hearings to consider an appeal against the results of the contested Nov. 21 presidential runoff.

Official results handed victory to the pro-Russia Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, but Western-leaning opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko claims he was robbed of a win by large-scale fraud.

Yanukovich cannot be inaugurated as president until the supreme court issues its ruling.

The resolution did not suggest a date for holding a new round of the runoff vote, which the opposition wants to be held on Dec. 12.

In the resolution the lawmakers called for President Leonid Kuchma to submit for their approval a motion to immediately end the mandate of the 15 members of the central election commission.

Amid growing concern of a split in the country as regions support the rival candidates, the resolution appealed for local governments to follow the country's constitution.

The resolution also called on foreign governments not to interfere in the crisis.

And it appealed for avoiding violence as supporters of the rival camps continued massive demonstrations in the capital Kiev.

Earlier, as thousands of orange-clad, boisterous supporters of opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko massed outside, the speaker of the Upper Rada proposed annulling last weekend's presidential poll, which the elections commission said handed victory to pro-Russia Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich.

Parliament met a day after the two rivals failed to resolve the crisis in their first meeting since the election, also attended by outgoing President Leonid Kuchma and European mediators.

Yushchenko came out of the meeting with an ultimatum for the ruling regime: either agree to a new round of elections or face "action."

"We insist on the following: the main precondition for the talks is the holding of new elections for the president of Ukraine," he told a roaring sea of supporters in Kiev's Independence Square late Friday following the three-hour talks.

"We will allow only a few days for the negotiation process. If Yanukovich wants to drag things out, we will take active measures," he said, calling for the new vote to take place on Dec. 12.

The talks came after a day when Yushchenko supporters paralyzed the government by blocking key buildings in Kiev with a chanting human chain.

The battle in Ukraine is effectively over what direction this former Soviet republic will take after 13 years of independence, and it has split the nation of 48 million people in two.

The nationalist Ukrainian-speaking west backs Yushchenko, who wants a Western-leaning course, while the industrialized Russian-speaking east supports Yanukovich and his vision of maintaining close ties to Moscow.

Friday's talks were attended among others by EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and Russian parliament speaker Boris Gryzlov.

Following Friday's talks, Kuchma put a brave face on a tense situation by reporting that some progress had indeed been made.

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