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Pro-Government Supporters Gather for Mass Protest in Ukraine


Pro-government supporters of Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych continue to arrive in the capital, Kiev, for mass protests against President Viktor Yushchenko's decision to dissolve parliament and call new elections. Lisa McAdams in Moscow reports.

Nearly 5,000 additional pro-government supporters traveled by bus and train from mostly Russian-speaking Eastern Ukraine to boost pro-government forces already massed outside parliament.

Inside, pro-government coalition deputies continue to meet, in direct defiance of President Yuschenko's decree dissolving parliament and calling new elections for May 27. He took the step after accusing Yanukovych of illegally expanding his power.

Prime Minister Yanukovych told lawmakers, today, all matters concerning preparations for early parliament elections will be made only after Ukraine's Constitutional Court issues a ruling on the validity of the president's decree.

But a senior official with Yushchenko's government, Secretariat Chief Viktor Bondar, says territorial election commissions in Ukraine's 20-plus regions have already begun preparations.

Earlier today, President Yushchenko instructed the Ukraine Security Council to provide funding for the elections. He also discussed the ongoing political crisis by phone with the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly president (Rene van der Linden).

Both President Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yanukovych have reached out to European countries other than Russia, in trying to find a political settlement to the stand-off.

Russian officials say they stand ready to assist, if asked. The speaker of
Russia's parliament, Boris Gryzloff, says Ukraine risks violence, if the political stalemate is allowed to drag out in the streets.

Gryzloff says all sides in the conflict must abide by the law, as they search for ways out of this latest deadlock.

The American government is also closely monitoring Ukraine's political situation and is urging a peaceful, non-violent resolution.

There have been no reports of violence, so far, and opposition protesters appear to be largely staying away from the streets.

Polls suggest, if an election were held today in Ukraine, President Yushchenko's Our Ukraine Party would place a distant third behind Yulia Timoshenko's bloc and Prime Minister Yanukovych's Regions Party.