Ukraine opposition rejects compromise as talks fail

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The Independent Online

Ukraine's opposition yesterday pulled out of talks to try to end a confrontation over last week's disputed presidential election and vowed to use "people power" to earn victory. The move was seen as a sign of growing strength in the camp of the opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko, who flatly rejected an 11th-hour compromise offer of the premiership from his presidential rival, Viktor Yanukovych.

Ukraine's opposition yesterday pulled out of talks to try to end a confrontation over last week's disputed presidential election and vowed to use "people power" to earn victory. The move was seen as a sign of growing strength in the camp of the opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko, who flatly rejected an 11th-hour compromise offer of the premiership from his presidential rival, Viktor Yanukovych.

Hundreds of thousands of pro-democracy Yushchenko supporters have occupied the centre of the capital, Kiev, and other cities after accusing the government of vote-rigging in the 21 November election.

Western governments and election monitors declared the election to be fraudulent, but the country's election commission declared Mr Yanukovych the winner by a slender margin.

However, as Yushchenko supporters poured into the capital, the government wavered from an initial hardline stance where it threatened to use force to crush the opposition.

Mr Yanukovych's appeared to be backing down yesterday as he offered to make his rival the prime minister if he became president. Otherwise, he suggested, new elections should be held without either of them standing as candidates.

Mr Yushchenko rejected the offer and his team, which had been negotiating with representatives of the government, said it was breaking off talks.

Mr Yanukovych was looking increasingly isolated. With parliament ruling the election was crooked and the outgoing president Leonid Kuchma indirectly suggesting the same thing, everyone was waiting for a verdict on the election's conduct from Ukraine's Supreme Court.

The court continued to hear opposition evidence of fraud late last night. Mr Yushchenko's side wants the court to rule that the government had cheated and either declare the opposition leader president or order new elections, probably later this month. The court said it was trying to move swiftly and many expect a decision today.

The opposition yesterday also called for an emergency session of parliament to sack Mr Yanukovych and his cabinet.

But as the session dragged on, opposition demonstrators accused the government of procrastinating to wear them down as they waited in sub-zero temperatures. They began to storm the parliament, shoving aside guards. Only the intervention of opposition MPs prevented them swamping the building.

Many demonstrators have for days said that they were itching to occupy parliament and other key buildings.

Ihor Tokanivsky, a 23-year-old lawyer from the western city of Lviv, who has stayed in one of the hundreds of tents pitched on the capital's snow-covered main Khreschatyk Street, said: "Many people think the government is playing for time and that it's a mistake to negotiate with them. If Yushchenko raises his hand and points out the direction we will take these buildings by storm. If necessary we'll take them down brick by brick."

A senior opposition member, Mykola Tomenko, said yesterday that parliament was using up its last opportunity to resolve the situation and that "resistance" would break out.

He did not explain what resistance would involve but told some of the tens of thousands of opposition supporters occupying Kiev: "If the decisions are not forthcoming, the authorities will see those actions which the people want. We understand full well that the potential for political means is being exhausted. When this potential comes to an end we will act within the framework of a civil resistance."

Mr Kuchma's apparent change of tack angered Mr Yanukovych, who, after a televised meeting with regional governors threw down a pen in exasperation and demanded "explanations" from Mr Kuchma.

Over the weekend, politicians in Mr Yanukovych's east Ukrainian political heartland threatened to form an autono-mous state if Mr Yushchenko becomes president. However, even that support seemed to dissolve yesterday as those who made separatist threats backed down after threats of prosecution and because support for the separatist proposal in eastern Ukraine proved far from universal.

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