KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine’s shivering but determined political opposition dug in its heels in Kiev’s frigid central square yesterday, rejecting an offer of the prime minister’s job from the declared winner of disputed presidential election and withdrawing from talks aimed at reaching a compromise.
The election dispute sparked a struggle at Ukraine’s parliament, with throngs of opposition supporters trying to storm inside after lawmakers tentatively approved a resolution that would cancel Saturday’s nonbinding decision to declare the election results invalid. Protesters — some crawling on each other’s shoulders — got as far as the lobby before police pushed them back.
The government, which is supported by powerful neighbor Russia, pushed ahead with offers that sought to placate or isolate Ukraine’s popular opposition leader, Viktor Yushchenko, who favors closer ties with the West.
Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, whose victory in the Nov. 21 presidential runoff has been challenged as fraudulent, suggested he could agree to outgoing President Leonid Kuchma’s proposal for a new election — but that both he and Yushchenko should bow out if one is held. “If this election brings a split in the country … I’m ready to drop my bid along with him,” Yanukovych said.
Yushchenko ignored the proposal. He also rebuffed the offer of the prime minister’s post under a Yanukovych presidency, saying it fell far short of a solution to Ukraine’s crisis. “The election was rigged,” he said. “People are asking whether this country has a political elite capable of upholding a fair vote.”
Yushchenko has led the opposition for years and was long seen as its candidate in the election in a country where millions are yearning for change after Kuchma’s 10-year rule. By contrast, Kuchma anointed Yanukovych as his favored successor just last spring, hoping his prominence and publicity as prime minister would attract votes.
Yesterday, Yanukovych pleaded for an end to round-the-clock-protests, which he said would ruin the economy, but the opposition promised to tighten its blockade of official buildings.
The political crisis has led to fears that Ukraine, which has the fastest growing economy in Europe but where millions live in poverty, could plunge into economic turmoil. Many Ukrainians have waited in long lines to exchange the national currency, hryvna, for U.S. dollars.