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Ukrainian Politician's Support Seen as Critical for Forcing President's Resignation - 2002-09-18

Opposition groups in Ukraine held a third day of rallies Wednesday to press for the resignation of President Leonid Kuchma.

In an effort to increase pressure on the president, opposition leaders are now calling for daily protests to be held on Kiev's Independence Square. They also have scheduled another nation-wide mass protest rally for next Tuesday.

But there is a growing sense that if the opposition is to succeed in forcing Mr. Kuchma to resign, it will need the support of the country's most popular politician, Viktor Yushenko of the Our Ukraine Bloc.

But it is not certain Mr. Yushenko is going to give that support. Ivan Lozowy is president of the Institute of Statehood and Democracy, an independent non-governmental organization based in Kiev. He said, so far, Mr. Yushenko seems content to stay on the sidelines.

"You've got a very strong, by all accounts - by all evidence, opposition movement beginning a series of actions aimed at removing the president from power and the country's most powerful, most popular politician certainly, the one who stands to gain the most from this process, is at best an onlooker or an unwilling participant," Mr. Lozowy said.

Mr. Lozowy also says the opposition should not underestimate the staying power and resources of President Kuchma.

"After all, Kuchma has 300,000 interior ministry troops behind him, police in fact, and he's not very afraid. It's going to take a lot more to get him out," he said.

All the same, Mr. Lozowy said the political tensions in Ukraine are a good thing. He said they are a sign of civic society waking up.

President Kuchma said much the same thing in comments Wednesday about the protests. He said the demonstrations showed the country was learning about democracy and the means of expressing disagreement.

He also said he would agree to enter into roundtable negotiations with representatives of the opposition. However, on Wednesday, an opposition leader, Anatoly Matvienko, head of the Sobor party, said he requested a meeting with President Kuchma to discuss opposition demands but he says his request was denied.