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Ukraine Leaders Offer New Elections

Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich faces a no-confidence vote in Ukraine's parliament, as the country's supreme court considers an opposition appeal against his disputed win in the recent presidential runoff election. Mr. Yanukovich and current President Leonid Kuchma have backtracked on earlier opposition to a possible new vote.

The court is holding a second day of deliberations on the appeal brought by opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko that the November 21 runoff vote was fraudulent. Although a decision may still be days away, opposition supporters say they feel the momentum in the ongoing election dispute has shifted their way.

President Leonid Kuchma and Mr. Yanukovich have both indicated they would not object to holding a new vote in order to resolve the dispute, as Mr. Yushchenko has demanded. Mr. Kuchma says an entirely new election should be held, not just another runoff. And, Mr. Yanukovich says he would agree to the poll only if neither he nor Mr. Yushchenko are candidates -- something the opposition is unlikely to accept.

Mr. Yanukovich suffered another blow, Monday, when his campaign manager resigned, saying new elections would be the best solution to the crisis.

Sergei Tihipko also resigned from his position as chairman of Ukraine's Central Bank, amid warning from the government that the country's economic health is in jeopardy as the political dispute drags on.

Adding to tensions is the threat that eastern, Russian-speaking regions which support Mr. Yanukovich might try to break away from the country.

Regional officials in the east are are considering plans for a referendum on autonomy, which could effectively split the country.

The major Donetsk region may hold such a vote as early as next Sunday, amid calls from both inside and outside of Ukraine to avoid any division of the country.

Moscow-based political analyst Irina Kobrinskaya says such a development would have far-reaching consequences. "Any split of the sovereign state becomes a big problem for its neighbors and for the whole system of international relations," she says.

Officials in Washington and various European capitals have said Ukraine's territorial integrity must be maintained, reiterating calls for the dispute to be decided by legal means.