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Crisis Abates in Kiev

DW staff / dpa (nda)May 27, 2007

Ukraine's sparring political parties agreed to a date for fresh parliamentary elections early Sunday in a breakthrough hailed by both sides as an end to their feud, and the threat of military confrontation in Kiev.

President Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yanukovych put aside their differences for nowImage: AP

Pro-European President Viktor Yushchenko and pro-Russian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich agreed to hold the elections on September 30, the Interfax news agency reported.

The two leaders had been locked in a long-running battle over the legality of early parliamentary elections that had been called by Yushchenko, and moves by Yanukovich's coalition to dominate

The dispute degenerated further this week after Yushchenko fired a prosecutor general supported by Yanukovich, who in turn had loyal police break in and escort the prosecutor general back to his office building, brawling with pro-Yushchenko security guards in the

It was the first outbreak violence between organized units of competing branches of the country's government, since Ukraine's 1991 independence.

Troop build-up disperses

Polizeikräfte in Kiew
Troops loyal to the president massed outside KievImage: AP

Yushchenko ordered all state buildings in the capital secured and some 2,000 troops were en route to Kiev Saturday, but the forces were held up outside the city by police loyal to Yanukovich.

Observers feared a possible assault on the prosecutor general's office, and uniformed police were unloading steel barriers at the building late Saturday evening.

Troop columns were returning to bases on Sunday, as were pro-Yanukovich police at the Prosecutor General's office building.

Kiev's streets barely registered the conflict, with vehicle and pedestrian traffic moving normally under clear skies.

The grounds around the Prosecutor General office often resembled a vacation park more than a protest epicentre, with demonstrators and riot police alike seen relaxing, drinking water, sitting on benches, and unbuttoning exterior clothing in the face of unseasonably hot temperatures exceeding 33 degrees in the shade.

The two sides announced a deal was reached after marathon talks ending at around 3 am in Kiev.

Process for new elections to begin soon

Ukraine Präsident Viktor Juschtschenko Pressekonferenz in Kiew
Yushchenko made concessions to ease the crisisImage: AP

Parliament will meet for a special session on May 29 and 30 to go through the procedure of setting new elections. A "special mechanism" in the form of a joint council will oversee legal changes, Yushchenko said.

The two sides also agreed that the country's security forces would not be misused in the dispute. Parliamentary speaker Alexander Moroz, and opposition leader Julia Timoshenko joined in the talks, but Timoshenko was not named as a participant in the compromise agreement.

The compromise deal conceded Yushchenko's right to call elections, but also pushed the date of the vote beyond the end of summer, a condition Yushchenko earlier had described as unacceptable. "We need to avoid repeating past mistakes," Yanukovich said.

Other terms listed in a joint statement included changes in the membership of the Central Election Committee, law making illegal judicial participation in political disputes and an overhaul in national voter rolls.

Hope that this truce will hold

Ukraine Premierminister Viktor Janukowitsch und Präsident Viktor Juschtschenko nach Verhandlungen
The two Viktor's have never seen eye-to-eye for longImage: AP

It was not the first time this week that Yushchenko and Yanukovich announced they had resolved the crisis, but the first time a concrete date for elections was set.

The pair in a joint announcement declared their agreement on constitutional amendments would be necessary, to prevent a repeat crisis.

Moroz called the deal "not an ideal solution, but the best possible under the circumstances."

Yushchenko identified the inability of the constitutional court, prosecutors and the central election committee to do their jobs in the face of a conflict between the executive and legislative branches as the root of the problem.

"These institutions must be free of political influence," he said. "Most likely, we will have to find answers in a new constitution." Ukraine's last constitution was signed into law in 2006.

In a possible sign of real willingness to compromise, both Yushchenko and Yanukovich said they would appear in public together to attend the national Cup match of the Ukrainian professional soccer league, pitting Dynamo Kiev against Shakhtar Donetsk.

Enthusiasm for the sport of football is in Ukraine one of the few areas the country's feuding political clans find common ground. However, Yushchenko is a lifetime Dynamo supporter, while Yanukovich is a Shakhtar fan.