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Ukrainian Political Deadlock Continues; Kuchma Calls for Help


Ukraine's outgoing President, Leonid Kuchma, has urged international mediators to return to Kiev as soon as possible, after parliament held an all-day special session. Saturday that ended in deadlock.

The Rada, or parliament, spent most of Saturday in heated debate about whether to introduce Constitutional reforms the government sees as vital before the holding of another round of presidential elections as called for Friday by Ukraine's Supreme Court.

The reforms now under discussion have long been sought by outgoing President Kuchma,who would like to see the powers of the presidency weakened, in favor of the parliament and the prime minister.

But opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko, who is widely expected to win the next poll, if it is free and fair, is opposed to the measures and Saturday his party blocked all discussion of the reforms in parliament.

After hours of inaction, a visibly frustrated speaker of parliament, Vladymir Lytvyn, told the chamber there was nothing further to discuss unless deputies could strike a deal between the opposition and pro-government forces.

Parliament is not expected to meet again until December 14.

Pro-government forces say the changes could go a long way in reassuring pro-Russia regions in the east of Ukraine that pro-reform candidate Yushchenko would not have too much power, if he is elected president.

But the opposition says it wants to first see President Kuchma honor his promise to fire the Yanukovich government and dismiss the Central Election Comission that oversaw the last elections, before proceeding with political reform.

Addressing tens-of-thousands of his supporters on Kiev's Central Independence Square Saturday night, Mr. Yushchenko said there would be plenty of time to discuss political

reform after the next presidential run-off. The election should be the theme of the day, he added.

Following parliament's deadlock, President Kuchma called European negotiators and urged them to return to Kiev for a third round of talks aimed at breaking the impasse. According to a statement from the Ukrainian presidency, the talks would be held on Monday in Kiev and would include the same European leaders as the first two rounds, as well as Russian parliamentary speaker Boris Gryzlof.

Ukraine's Central Election Commission also met on Saturday and voted to accept the Supreme Court's ruling for a third round run-off election on December 26 between Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich and opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko.

The landmark ruling has led to some bitter feelings in the east, where more than 1,000 pro-government supporters met in Kharkiv to discuss whether to hold a referendum on declaring autonomy from central control, now that Mr. Yanukovich's declared win has been annulled.

In the autonomous republic of Crimea,in the south, fist fights broke out among pro-government and opposition forces. But no major unrest has been reported.

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