Wed, Dec 08, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Conciliatory commission to tackle foundering talks

AP , KIEV

A tentative deal to ease Ukraine's political crisis foundered yesterday over the opposition's refusal to endorse constitutional changes and President Leonid Kuchma's rejection of the call to fire his prime minister.

An initial agreement envisaged the parliament's simultaneous passage yesterday of the opposition-demanded electoral changes to prevent fraud in the Dec. 26 presidential election rerun between opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and the government-pushed constitutional reform that would trim presidential powers. But that deal appeared in jeopardy early yesterday after the six-hour, European-mediated talks between Yushchenko, Yanukovych and outgoing President Leonid Kuchma.

A somber Kuchma told reporters that the parties had failed to agree on the constitutional reform and on the opposition's push for Yanukovych's resignation.

"A conciliatory commission will start working tomorrow," he said, expressing hope that it would "achieve success and solve the issues that we failed to solve."

The compromise agreement signed after the talks contained Kuchma's pledge to reshuffle the Central Election Commission -- a key opposition demand -- and emphasized the need to pass electoral changes to ensure "a fair and transparent vote."

However, the lack of consensus on the constitutional changes made the implementation of those pledges unlikely.

Yushchenko backers in a sprawling tent camp in downtown Kiev, now in their third straight week of protests, angrily lashed out yesterday at what they described as "Kuchma's plots."

"We have been peaceful so far," said a protester who identified himself only as Vyacheslav from the city of Rivne. But if Yushchenko wants to force Kuchma to concede defeat in his attempt to hand power to his chosen successor, "we are ready," Vyacheslav said -- a tacit threat that the demonstrators could turn to violence.

At a barricade blocking the entrance to the Cabinet building, Yushchenko's orange-clad backers remained determined not to let "a single bureaucrat enter," said Adam Yanakievych from Kiev.

"Kuchma and Yanukovych are trying our patience," Yanakievych said.

Oleksandr Zinchenko, a lawmaker and Yushchenko's campaign manager, said that prospects of reaching compromise in Parliament yesterday appeared dim.

"What sense does it make to vote for the political reform if we failed to reach agreement on key issues?" he said.

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