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Ukraine Opposition Urged to Stay in Streets


Ukraine's pro-Western opposition leader, Viktor Yushchenko, is appealing to his supporters to continue their week-old street protests over disputed presidential elections. Meanwhile, the Russian backed candidate, who was declared the winner of last Sunday's election, is meeting with leaders of eastern and southern regions who are warning they may pursue autonomy.

Flanked by his wife and three daughters, Mr. Yushchenko came to Kiev's centra Independence Square to thank the tens-of-thousands of his supporters for their sacrifice in the streets.

He reminded the demonstrators that democracy sometimes takes time, noting that massive street protests that toppled the government in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia last year lasted at least three weeks.

Mr. Yushchenko's supporters received a boost on Saturday, when Ukraine's parliament adopted a non-binding resolution declaring the result of last week's run-off presidential election invalid. The legislators also passed a vote of no-confidence in the Central Election Commission, which declared Russian-backed Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych the winner.

Mr. Yushchenko urged his supporters to maintain their vigil in the streets of the capital and other cities, until, he said, "absolute victory is secured." The crowd responded with a cheer.

Mr. Yushchenko told the protesters that they have demonstrated great power by their sheer numbers. But he says the opposition's greatest strength is in maintaining its peaceful stance.

Mr. Yanukovych, meanwhile, was meeting with supporters in eastern Ukraine, who have called for autonomy for the eastern region, if Mr. Yushchenko gains the presidency.

Mr. Yushchenko, speaking to his supporters in Kiev, denounced such talk as a threat to Ukraine.

Mr. Yushchenko says Ukraine's Constitution clearly states that people leading any such discussions should be brought to justice, as they seek to destroy Ukraine's sovereignty.

He also said Ukraine needs to seek good relations with both Europe and Russia, because, he said, it is not possible for one or the other to make the final determination of what happens in Ukraine.

He concluded his roughly half-hour remarks by placing his right hand over his heart and leading the protesters in Ukraine's national anthem.

In separate remarks Sunday, outgoing President Leonid Kuchma also warned that talk of autonomy violates Ukraine's Constitution. He said compromise is needed to resolve the dispute.

The next focus in the electoral crisis comes on Monday, when Ukraine's Supreme Court begins hearing the opposition's claim that the election was fraudulent.

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