Deal To End Ukraine Standoff

Ukraine's opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko signed a compromise agreement Wednesday that obliged his supporters to lift their siege of government buildings, but he said they would stay in the streets until a deal is reached on a new vote.

After talks with the presidential runoff's officially declared winner, Viktor Yanukovych, outgoing President Leonid Kuchma and European envoys, Yushchenko proposed that a revote of the runoff be held Dec. 19.

Kuchma has said a whole new election should be held.

Under the agreement Yushchenko signed together with Kuchma and the envoys, the blockade that has paralyzed the government — surrounding the presidential administration and Cabinet in Kiev — must be lifted immediately.

It was unclear whether the agreement extended to massive pro-Yushchenko protests in Kiev's central square, but Yushchenko said that his supporters wouldn't let up until the conflicting parties agree on terms for a new vote.

"Protests in the streets will of course continue," Yushchenko said after the talks at the Mariinskly Palace presidential residence. "They would be lifted only after a date is set for a new election and changes introduced into the election law."

Yushchenko has refused to recognize the official runoff results, claiming widespread fraud – an allegation backed by Western governments and many international monitors. Hundreds of thousands of Yushchenko's supporters have flooded Kiev's streets and surrounded official buildings since the vote.

According to the compromise agreement, a group of lawyers would be convened immediately to mull over changes of Ukrainian law in a bid to resolve the crisis. Yushchenko told reporters the lawyers must come up with proposals within 24 hours.

Yushchenko, Yanukovych and other participants in the talks also emphasized the need to prevent any actions that could split the country. Yanukovych's supporters in the east have called for regional autonomy, sparking fears of Ukraine's breakup.

Participants in the talks emphasized the need to avoid the use of force and said the next round of talks would be held after the Supreme Court rules on the opposition's appeal against the official vote results.

Yushchenko's camp wants the court to declare the runoff results invalid and name him the winner based on his narrow first-round victory.

Earlier Wednesday, Ukraine's parliament brought down the government, approving a no-confidence motion. The vote with 229 in favor came minutes after the 450-member chamber initially turned down the motion by a vote of 222-1, and after Kuchma, the outgoing president, announced he supported holding an entire new presidential election, not just a revote of the disputed second round.

Ukraine had a first round of voting in which no one candidate received more than half the votes, setting up a runoff between the top two candidates. The results from the Nov. 21 runoff provoked a national standoff when the opposition refused to accept them, citing vote fraud.

"Where in the world do they have a third round of elections? A revote — it's a farce," Kuchma said at a government meeting. "I never supported it because it is unconstitutional."

Kuchma's proposal seemed to be an attempt to buy the government time in the face of mass protests that have paralyzed the capital for 10 days and blocked government business. It also opened up the possibility of bringing new candidates into the race — which the government has appeared to favor and the opposition fiercely opposes.

But following parliament's no-confidence vote, Kuchma must dismiss his government, said Kiev-based analyst Markian Bilynskyj. Pro-communist parliamentary groups used a similar move in 2001 to oust Yushchenko from the prime minister's post, Bilynskyj said.