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Archive for Tuesday, December 7, 2004

Ukraine talks bring promise to amend electoral laws

December 7, 2004

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— Ukraine's political rivals agreed early today on legislation to ensure a fair vote during the rerun later this month of the fraud-ridden presidential runoff but remained divided on constitutional amendments trimming presidential powers.

In addition to supporting changes in election laws, outgoing President Leonid Kuchma agreed to change the Central Election Commission, which was accused of covering up rampant fraud during the Nov. 21 runoff.

On Monday, Kuchma and Russian President Vladimir Putin had said they would abide by the results of the new election, removing major question marks surrounding the Dec. 26 rematch. The vote was ordered by the Supreme Court, which last week struck down the election commission decision that Kremlin-backed Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych won the runoff.

"Of course we will ... accept the will of any nation in the former Soviet space, and will work with any elected leader," Putin said during a state visit to Turkey.

Yanukovych emerged from seclusion and declared he was confident of victory. Kuchma had supported Yanukovych in the runoff against Western-leaning opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko but has distanced himself from the prime minister over the past two weeks as protesters swarmed the capital.

Today's agreement on electoral law changes was reached during six-hour talks involving Kuchma and the two candidates and brokered by European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus and Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski.

Kuchma emerged from the talks after midnight and said the parties had failed to reach agreement on his initiative to push through constitutional reform to transfer some powers from the presidency to parliament.

Yushchenko had opposed the constitutional changes, saying that Kuchma and his allies want to weaken the presidency, fearing his victory in the election rematch with Yanukovych.

However, just before the talks, Yushchenko's allies in parliament reached a tentative agreement with pro-government lawmakers to approve changes in the electoral laws and the constitutional amendments on presidential powers simultaneously today.

The later announcement appeared to indicate that the deal was in trouble and could collapse when it comes to a vote. Yushchenko had refused to support such a compromise when it was raised in parliament on Saturday.

The agreement also called for the lifting of the opposition blockade of government buildings after the approval of electoral changes in parliament. Tens of thousands of Yushchenko's supporters have besieged official buildings in Kiev for nearly two weeks, paralyzing the government's work.

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