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Ukraine Protest Smaller than Last Week's Huge Demo - 2002-09-24

Ukraine's political opposition has staged another large protest in Kiev aimed at ousting President Leonid Kuchma. The protests failed to draw the huge crowds they did last week.

Once again Kiev's streets were crowded with demonstrators carrying banners reading, "Kuchma out."

But the crowds were smaller than last week, when tens of thousands of protesters flooded the city's main square, and there were demonstrations in several other cities. On Tuesday, there were only about 5,000 protesters in Kiev, and only one parallel demonstration in Ukraine's second largest city, Kharkiv.

The opposition also pressed its case inside Ukraine's parliament. Opposition members tried to re-introduce a motion to impeach President Kuchma if he refuses to step down. But they met strong opposition from pro-Kuchma lawmakers, much like the first time they presented the motion.

By midday, all business inside the parliament was reported at a standstill, with opposition deputies pressing pro-Kuchma forces to address their political concerns.

Some opposition factions are now pledging to boycott legislative activities, until deputies from pro-presidential factions agree to their demands.

Meanwhile, Ukraine's leading opposition leader, Viktor Yushchenko of the Our Ukraine Bloc, was noticeably absent from the day's events. Many experts say the success of the opposition's aims depends on Mr. Yushchenko's full participation. But, Mr. Yushchenko has yet to definitively commit to the opposition cause, preferring to call for negotiations with the government.

His spokesman today quoted him as saying Ukraine is in a serious political crisis that is best solved through dialogue.

Political tensions have been on the rise in Ukraine since March parliamentary elections, when the opposition won most of the popular vote, but failed to secure control of the parliament from pro-Kuchma forces.

President Kuchma, whose term is due to end in 2004, has already survived months of protests following the disappearance and alleged murder of internet journalist Georgy Gongadze.

The president has been accused of complicity in the reporter's death, a charge he denies.