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Yushchenko's backers block Cabinet meeting

KIEV -- Beating drums and chanting "resign," supporters of apparent presidential winner Viktor Yushchenko blocked his election opponent from presiding at a Cabinet meeting yesterday as tensions persisted in this former Soviet republic.

Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych showed no signs of cracking, refusing to surrender his post and telling journalists he would challenge the results of Sunday's runoff vote before the Supreme Court. Parliament passed a no-confidence vote for Yanukovych on Dec. 1, but the law gives him 60 days to submit his resignation, and he has called parliament's move illegal.

"It is a matter of my principles not to submit a resignation," Yanukovych said. "I know why they insist on that. . . . They are shivering with fear."

Yanukovych was declared the winner of a Nov. 21 presidential vote, but hundreds of thousands wearing Yushchenko's orange campaign color massed in Kiev for day after day to protest election fraud. The Supreme Court eventually annulled the ballot, forcing Sunday's rerun, which preliminary results showed Yushchenko winning easily.

Yanukovych wanted to preside at a Cabinet session yesterday, but about 1,000 protesters blocked the entrances to the government headquarters building. The ministers met later without Yanukovych at the Finance Ministry, said Vitaliy Lukianenko, spokesman for Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Mykola Azarov.

"Shame on Yanukovych for clinging to power," said Stepan Lukyanov, a Kiev student and member of the pro-Yushchenko Pora youth movement participating in the protest.

Yuriy Lutsenko, a lawmaker and member of the Socialist Party, which backed Yushchenko, said: "We did not blockade the Cabinet of Ministers. We blockaded only one person: Viktor Yanukovych."

The protesters melted away by late morning after receiving guarantees that Yanukovych would not attempt to enter his office yesterday or today.

The prime minister lashed out at outgoing President Leonid Kuchma, a onetime supporter, as well as Ukraine's parliament and the judicial system. He said they failed to prevent a "seizure of power -- a scenario that was planned abroad, tested in Yugoslavia, Georgia, Romania, and has been applied in Ukraine."

Yanukovych, who was supported by Russia's government, draws his support largely from Ukraine's east, where pro-Russia sentiment is high. Kiev and Ukraine's west, where Ukrainian nationalist sentiment is strong, backed Yushchenko, a Western-leaning reformer.

Also yesterday, Yushchenko ally Yulia Tymoshenko traveled to Yanukovych's hometown of Donetsk, where she answered hostile questions in a live television appearance. She wore a Shakhtar Donetsk soccer club orange team T-shirt, telling the audience: "It is your color. It is our color."

Tymoshenko has been tipped as one of the possible choices for the next prime minister. But naming her to the job could worsen tensions because her radical rhetoric and calls for a seizure of power during the recent weeks of political crisis is anathema to Yanukovych's supporters.

Yushchenko's spokeswoman, Irina Gerashchenko, denied a report by the Interfax news agency that cited Yushchenko as saying he would propose Tymoshenko for prime minister. No decision on whom to propose for premier has been made, Gerashchenko said.

Yanukovych's campaign has submitted a 27-volume appeal to the Central Election Commission urging that Sunday's vote be declared invalid, aide Nestor Shufrych said yesterday. If election officials reject the appeal, the campaign will appeal to the Supreme Court, he said.

Yanukovych's chances of succeeding with that tactic appeared minimal. International election monitors did not report mass falsifications in Sunday's voting, in sharp contrast to their criticism of the November election.

The prime minister also appears unable to marshal protest gatherings of the size that backed Yushchenko.

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