European envoys arrive in Ukraine as opposition supporters encircle government buildings

Friday, November 26th 2004, 9:19 am

By: News On 6

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) Ukraine's outgoing president will meet Friday with opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko in the presence of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and European envoys in a bid to solve a political crisis over the country's disputed election, a European Union official said.

The meeting by President Leonid Kuchma will include European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus, said Solana's spokeswoman, Christina Gallach.

The envoys arrived Friday in Ukraine, which has been engulfed in a political standoff since Sunday's presidential runoff election, which the opposition and the West criticized as seriously flawed. Kuchma's government certified the Kremlin-backed Yanukovych as the winner, but Yushchenko claims fraud robbed him of his victory.

Kuchma thanked the European envoys for ``making every effort so that these negotiations take place not on the street _ which can never give a positive result _ but around a negotiating table,'' the Interfax news agency quoted him as saying after a meeting with Solana and Kwasniewski.

``The situation is more than difficult,'' Kwasniewski later told journalists.

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Friday the Kremlin was concerned by the West's attempts to influence the situation in Ukraine, ``especially when some European capitals say that they don't accept the elections and their next thesis is that Ukraine must be with the West''

``The Ukrainian people must decide who Ukraine wants to be with, and such statements make you think that somebody really wants to draw new dividing lines in Europe,'' Lavrov told a news conference in Moscow.

Kuchma's administration said it could not immediately confirm the talks, which were to take place against the background of an opposition blockade of the Cabinet of Ministers building and presidential administration.

Thousands of opposition supporters surrounded the buildings, refusing to let anyone through as they intensified protests against the outcome of the elections. The protesters have set up a sprawling tent camp in Kiev, braving freezing temperatures for five straight nights.

Yanukovych, meanwhile, rallied thousands of his supporters _ waving his blue-and-white campaign flags _ in front of Kiev's train station.

``I don't need power at the cost of spilled blood,'' Yanukovych said in remarks broadcast on the pro-Yanukovych TRK Ukraine television. ``For me, there are no my people and strangers, no bad people and good people. All people are equal for me.''

Russian President Vladimir Putin all but publicly endorsed Yanukovych, and underlined his support by visiting Ukraine on the eve of both the initial vote and Sunday's runoff. He has twice congratulated Yanukovych on his victory but on Thursday said the election dispute should be settled in the courts, not in the streets.

On Friday, Moldova said it does not recognize the results of the election in Ukraine, putting the former Soviet republic at odds with Putin.

``Moldova expresses concern about the non-transparency of the voting process,'' Moldova's Foreign Ministry said. It said the ``fundamental principles of democracy are distorted in Ukraine.''

The Western-leaning Yushchenko had previously said that he would only negotiate with Kuchma, and he said the main condition for holding talks would be the president's acknowledgment that the election was invalid.

The presidential administration said it could not immediately confirm the talks.

In Chernihiv, about 80 miles north of Kiev, police fired smoke canisters over the heads of a pro-Yushchenko crowd after someone threw an ``explosive packet'' at a police cordon outside the mayor's office, said police spokeswoman Raisa Deikun. Two policemen were hospitalized, she said. It was not immediately clear what thrown explosive was. Deikun said the protesters had been trying to seize the mayor's office.

The report cited him as saying that ambulances were on the scene. There were no immediate details available on possible injuries.

In Kiev, protesters standing five deep and linking arms blockaded the Cabinet building where Yanukovych works and refused to let staff enter, heeding a call Thursday by Yushchenko's popular and more radical ally Yuliya Tymoshenko. Police were packed into about 12 buses nearby.

Protesters also blocked all surrounding streets with buses and vans decorated with Yushchenko's orange flags, posters and ribbons. In an alley some 1,000 feet away from the protesters special forces had parked about 30 trucks and jeeps.

Protesters also surrounded the presidential administration building, which was heavily guarded by ranks of police in riot gear.

The Supreme Court on Thursday ordered that the Central Election Commission's final tally not be published pending the outcome of an appeal against the results filed by the opposition candidate's camp. The appeal will be heard Monday, and Yanukovych cannot be inaugurated until results are published.

Although Yanukovych enjoys the backing of Kuchma, Ukraine's Supreme Court is respected as an unbiased body that hasn't hesitated in the past to take decisions against the government, said Igor Zdanov, a political analyst with the Kiev-based Razumkov think tank.

Yushchenko praised the decision but told the crowd, ``This is only the beginning.''

On Thursday, his campaign chief Oleksandr Zinchenko announced that the opposition-formed National Salvation Committee _ a kind of parallel government _ would establish national self-defense organizations and take responsibility for defending the Ukrainian Constitution.

Tymoshenko has called on opposition supporters to seize power by surrounding government buildings, blocking railways and transport.

Yanukovych said late Thursday, ``I don't see any possibility for resolving this conflict by the path of ultimatums ... we should sit at the negotiating table,'' news agencies reported.

But Yushchenko has insisted that the main condition for starting discussions was that ``both sides acknowledge the results of the election were not valid.''

Neither Kuchma nor Yanukovych has shown any willingness to do so.

Kwasniewski traveled to Ukraine at Kuchma's request and was bringing a three-point plan: calling on both sides to renounce violence, to urge a recount of the vote and to try to initiate talks.

The crisis has threatened to further divide the former Soviet republic of 48 million people and raised the prospect of civil conflict. Yanukovych drew his support from the pro-Russian, heavily industrialized eastern half of Ukraine. Yushchenko's strength was in the west, a traditional center of nationalism.

On Thursday, Yushchenko supporters set up a barricade of logs and burning tires along a main western road leading from the city of Lviv to the Polish border.

``We are doing this for our president, Yushchenko,'' said Maria Cherkas, standing at the roadblock.

In Kiev _ Ukraine's very European capital, which has thrown its support overwhelmingly behind Yushchenko _ opposition supporters maintained their vigil on Independence Square, while Yanukovych supporters continued to arrive from the east on trains and buses.

Moscow considers Ukraine part of its sphere of influence and a buffer between Russia and NATO's eastern flank. The United States and the European Union have said they cannot accept the results and warned Ukraine of ``consequences'' in relations with the West.

A liberal Russian political leader, Grigory Yavlinsky, on Friday accused state-controlled Channel One television and newspapers he did not name for acting like ``slaves who envy others' freedom,'' and said they were ``poisoning one part of the Ukrainian people against the other.'' Channel One has given blanket positive coverage to pro-Yanukovych demonstrators and accused their opponents of raising tensions.

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