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Deal struck on Ukraine elections

Agreement called Yushchenko win

KIEV -- Ukraine's president and prime minister reached agreement yesterday on holding early parliamentary elections in a bid to end a political standoff between the rival leaders.

The agreement is a major victory for President Viktor Yushchenko, whose April 2 decision to dissolve parliament and call early elections was a huge risk and looked in danger of backfiring as the crisis dragged on.

But although Yushchenko won the battle, the real fight for control over the next parliament still looms ahead, and all polls show pro-Western Yushchenko's parliamentary allies trailing Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's Russian-leaning party.

Yushchenko called the agreement "the answer that the nation was waiting for."

"I would not like for what happened today to be understood as the victory of one force over another," he said.

After emerging from talks with the president, Yanukovych went to speak to thousands of flag-waving supporters gathered on Kiev's Independence Square. "There is no other way to solve this crisis except by holding democratic and fair elections," he said.

The former Soviet republic has been mired in a political crisis since Yushchenko's decree -- a move he said was necessary to prevent Yanukovych from usurping power. Yanukovych and his majority in parliament ignored the decision, calling it unconstitutional.

As the standoff dragged on, both sides brought their supporters to the streets for major rallies, and accused each other of acting in bad faith. Yanukovych appealed to the Constitutional Court, but it moved slowly in its deliberations and Yushchenko said the 18-judge panel was not up to the task, firing two of the judges this week.

Yanukovych emerged from the meeting with the president to say a breakthrough had been made. He told thousands of his supporters at the rally that the two leaders agreed to the creation of a working group that will decide what laws need to be adopted and when the election will take place. Previously, Yushchenko had set the election date for June 24.

The bloc of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and other pro-Western parties welcomed the agreement, as did many of Yanukovych's supporters gathered on Independence Square.

"It is correct because the longer this lasted, the worse it became," said Svetlana Piven, 40, as thousands of Yanukovych supporters began to disperse.