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Ukraine Political Standoff Moves to Negotiating Table


Ukraine's outgoing president, Leonid Kuchma, says a working group has been formed, effective immediately, to find a peaceful way out of the political deadlock now gripping Ukraine. The word comes after talks Friday including international mediators from Europe, President Kuchma and the opposing presidential candidates.

Flanked by the negotiating parties in a hall at Ukraine's Mariansky Palace, President Kuchma made only the briefest of remarks after more than three hours of talks.

Mr. Kuchma said the parties to the group would work to see that Ukraine's Supreme Court investigates the political opposition's claims of massive electoral fraud in the recent presidential elections in what he called, "an open and transparent manner."

Mr. Kuchma thanked the leaders who came to Kiev to try and assist in the process, including European Union Foreign Policy chief Javier Solana, OSCE Secretary-General Jan Kubash, Polish President Alexander Kwasniewski, Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus, and Russian parliamentary speaker Boris Gryzlof.

He said all parties were committed to avoiding any escalation of the conflict that could lead to possible bloodshed. "Mr. Kuchma said everyone hopes to find a dignified way out of, what he called, "a difficult problem."

He then added with emphasis that their can be only "one Ukraine."

Mr. Kuchma concluded the press conference by publicly shaking the hand of Mr. Yushchenko, followed by that of his hand-picked successor, Mr. Yanukovich.

Earlier Friday, Prime Minister Yanukovich appeared before about 5,000 of his supporters for the first time in days and urged them to stand strong. He said if they stood beside him during this stand-off they would eventually get their win. He also said that he would not like to win the presidency by bloodshed.

In comments broadcast on Ukraine's independent Channel Five, the head of Ukraine's army, Alexander Kuzmuk, said no one has given any order to use force against the protesters and he said none of his forces would obey such an order if they did.

Mr. Kuzmuk said Ukraine's army would be with the population. But he declined to note whether that would be the people that support Mr. Yanukovich, or those who support Mr. Yushchenko.

A heavy wet snow did little to dampen the spirits of the protesters who have now spent a week in the streets.

Some protesters could be seen openly weeping as they sang the words, "God Save Ukraine."

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