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Uncertainty Hangs over Ukraine as Election Dispute Enters Third Week


Ukraine's election crisis is now in its third week and shows no sign of ending, as the two sides in the political battle again lock horns in a new standoff. Although President Leonid Kuchma says he is "ready to compromise," tens of thousands of opposition protesters remain in downtown Kiev, to keep up the pressure.

Opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko urged the huge crowd to maintain its blockade of government buildings, amid uncertainty about what comes next in the long political battle.

The new stand-off stems from disagreement over constitutional changes that would substantially weaken the powers of the presidency by transferring them to the parliament.

Mr. Yushchenko says current President Leonid Kuchma wants the changes because he fears his preferred presidential candidate, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, will lose the new runoff vote December 26. Mr. Kuchma says Mr. Yushchenko reneged on a commitment he made, agreeing to the changes last week.

In return, parliament was to pass new electoral laws to ensure the new runoff election will be free and fair. Saturday, parliament adjourned for a 10-day break without passing any of the reforms.

To break the log jam, Mr. Kuchma has asked for a new meeting, involving foreign mediators, including the presidents of Poland, Lithuania, the European Union's foreign policy chief and the speaker of Russia's parliament. He says he is ready to compromise with the opposition, but it is not clear if parliament will reconvene anytime soon.

President Kuchma first proposed making the constitutional changes earlier this year, when he knew he would be stepping down. Critics accused him of wanting to maintain power, because parties loyal to him hold a majority of seats in parliament.

Mr. Yushchenko says he agreed to discuss the reforms after the new runoff, which was ordered by the supreme court friday. He says if parliament does not make changes to the electoral laws soon, it will be too late to implement them before December 26. He also insists that an entirely new electoral commission must be appointed.

Meanwhile, the protests in downtown Kiev continue as they have for more than two weeks.

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