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Ukraine's Kuchma Refuses to Resign or Call New Election - 2002-09-25

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has rejected demands by opposition lawmakers that he resign or call early elections. Mr. Kuchma met with several opposition lawmakers after they spent the night in the hallways outside his office.

President Kuchma ceded some ground simply by meeting opposition political leaders, whose earlier demands for talks he had rejected as blackmail.

But the President categorically refused the opposition's demands.

The lawmakers, representing four of Ukraine's key opposition parties, submitted their demands in a formal petition, following more than a week of demonstrations in Kiev. There have also been protest actions in several other major Ukrainian cities.

The protests started out strong, attracting the largest crowd of demonstrators Kiev has seen since Independence. But the days since September 16th have drawn fewer people into the streets.

Late Tuesday, members of Ukraine's political opposition staged a hunger strike and vowed to remain in the presidential building, until their demands for talks were met. They left the building shortly after meeting with the president.

Outside, several-hundred protestors gathered anew, under the watchful eyes of riot police.

Meanwhile, Ukraine's Chief Prosecutor's office has opened a criminal investigation into what it says was the illegal seizure of parts of the presidential building by the opposition lawmakers.

If convicted, they could face up to three-years in prison, but first parliament would have to strip them of the immunity they enjoy as members.