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Opposition leader demands new elections in Ukraine

KIEV -- Ukraine's two rivals for power failed in nearly three hours of talks yesterday to resolve the political stalemate over who will lead the bitterly divided nation, and opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko said at a huge rally that he was insisting on a new election.

Outgoing President Leonid Kuchma presided at the meeting with Yushchenko, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, and a delegation of key European envoys. Kuchma said a working group had been established to find a solution to the crisis over who will succeed him.

Kremlim-backed Yanukovych was declared the winner of Sunday's election but cannot be inaugurated pending hearing of an appeal to the Supreme Court filed by the Yushchenko camp.

President Bush said from his vacation home in Crawford, Texas, that the world ''is watching very closely" and that he hoped the crisis would be ''resolved in a way that brings credit and confidence to the Ukrainian government."

The United States and European Union have said they cannot accept the results of the runoff election, warning of ''consequences" of Ukraine's relations with the West if the current outcome stands.

Hundreds of thousands of Yushchenko's supporters have massed in the streets since Sunday to protest what they and Western nations have called seriously flawed balloting.

Yushchenko did not give details of what was discussed in the talks at the ornate Mariinsky presidential palace, but he told tens of thousands of his supporters in Independence Square shortly afterward that his side was insisting on a rerun of the voting, which he said he wanted to be held Dec. 12 under the observation of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Yushchenko did not specify in his statement to the crowd, but he seemed to be calling for a new nationwide vote, rather than only in some areas.

In recent days, speculation had been high that a new vote in only some districts could be acceptable -- primarily districts in Yanukovych stronghold regions where observers said turnout figures seemed to be wildly inflated.

Earlier yesterday, the Unian news agency quoted Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko as saying that Moscow regarded potential revoting favorably -- an apparent significant retreat from its earlier insistence that the elections were fair and valid.

President Vladimir Putin of Russia had 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.

Kuchma said all sides ''stand against any use of force that would lead to bloodshed" and said the working group would begin its consultations immediately.

The Supreme Court appeal is to be heard Monday, and the protests are expected to continue for several days.

The size of the crowds could rise as the weekend frees many people from their jobs, but some protesters seemed disappointed with the results of yesterday's talks, and that could slow down the demonstrations' momentum.

The meeting included European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, presidents Aleksander Kwasniewski of Poland and Valdas Adamkus of Lithuania, and Boris Gryzlov, speaker of Russia's lower house of parliament.

Jan Kubis, the head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and Volodymyr Lytvyn, speaker of the Ukrainian Parliament, also participated.

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

Before he brought both sides together, Kuchma called for an end to the mass demonstrations.

''Any revolution must end in peace," he said in a televised statement.

''The sooner this so-called revolution ends, the better it will be for the Ukrainian people."

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