The European Union has expressed concern about the political situation in Ukraine, where moves are under way to change the constitution before the presidential election scheduled for October. Opposition politicians say the moves are an attempt to block a popular politician from succeeding President Leonid Kuchma.

The European Union issued a statement saying that changing the country's constitution might have a negative impact on the development of representative democracy in Ukraine.

The EU's move Friday came shortly after the European human rights organization known as the Council of Europe described the current situation as a political crisis that could lead to Ukraine's expulsion from the group.

Parliamentary deputies that support the president reacted angrily to the Council of Europe's move, accusing the group of being partial.

But opposition deputies applauded the criticism from Europe, saying this would bring attention to what is really going on in Ukraine.

The proposed constitutional change would have the president be elected by parliament rather than directly by voters.

Ukraine's parliament passed a first reading of the bill last month in a tumultuous session that included pushing and shoving between various deputies. Opposition parties called the vote illegal.

Soon afterward, the constitutional court cleared the way for President Kuchma to run for a third term in next October's poll, something currently prohibited.

The Ukrainian leader has said he doesn't plan to run. But critics say the maneuvers are a way to block the possible victory in the vote by popular opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko.

A recent survey by an independent polling center found overwhelming opposition to changing the way the president is elected.

The EU statement said "a constitutional change must draw its legitimacy from real popular support for its objectives."

Last week a senior U.S. State Department official was quoted as saying the recent developments were alarming, and threatened to strain relations between the U.S. and Ukraine.

Ties between the United States and Ukraine reached a low point in 2002 over allegations that President Kuchma had personally approved the sale of early-warning radar equipment to Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq.

Mr. Kuchma's rule has been marked by controversy since he was first elected in 1994.

Four years ago, street protests rocked the country for weeks after the president was accused of involvement in the murder of an opposition journalist.

The Ukrainian leader has steadfastly denied all the allegations against him.