Parliament today passed a resolution of no confidence in Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, further hindering his bid for recognition as winner of a disputed presidential runoff election.
The vote may give outgoing President Leonid D. Kuchma the option of naming a new interim prime minister or selecting Yanukovich to head a caretaker government. But Yanukovich disputes the legality of the action.
"I will never recognize this decision," Yanukovich told reporters. "They approved the decision in political terms. But it is against the law, it is against the constitution."
The legal basis for parliament's action was complex, giving grounds for argument by both sides. In any case, the move adds to the political momentum of opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko, who claims to be the legitimate winner of the Nov. 21 balloting.
Kuchma said after a meeting with mediators and contenders that all parties agreed to seek a solution based on Supreme Court and parliamentary decisions, and reaffirmed their commitment not to settle the dispute by force. Yushchenko also agreed to a deal in which supporters would end their protests of government buildings only.
"Protests in the streets will, of course, continue," Yushchenko told reporters. "They would be lifted only after a date is set for a new election and changes introduced into the election law."
The Supreme Court continued for a third day to hear a Yushchenko appeal against the official vote tally, which could lead to a revote of the runoff election between Yushchenko and Yanukovich, or to an entirely new two-round election open to new candidates.
Kuchma today repeated his endorsement of the slower new election option, while Yushchenko's camp demanded again a quick revote of the runoff if there is new balloting.
But Kuchma says a rerun of the runoff only would be a "farce."
Yanukovich today submitted his own appeal against the Central Election Commission's actions, asking judges to declare part of the runoff results invalid.
Yanukovich's appeal focused on alleged violations in western Ukraine, where the opposition leader is strong, while Yushchenko's appeal focused on districts in eastern Ukraine, the prime minister's power base.
"It is an important and serious victory for us, but there is still a lot to be done," parliamentary deputy Mykola Tomenko told a rally of Yushchenko supporters in central Kiev.
On Tuesday, talks between Ukraine's two rival presidential candidates broke down, but the arrival of a key European Union envoy offered fresh prospects that a peaceful solution could be found.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana met with Kuchma late Tuesday before a larger round of talks today.
The quest for a solution has raised constitutional and legal issues. If the consensus solution is some form of revote or a completely new election, it is likely that parliament would need to pass new legislation to set the rules and provide legitimacy.
Aides to Yushchenko declared Tuesday evening that they were breaking off negotiations and accused Yanukovich's side of dealing in bad faith.
"The authorities used the talks to cheat," Taras Stetskiv, a member of parliament and Yushchenko associate, told a rally in central Kiev. "We are stopping talks with the authorities. We will talk with them only from the position of people power."
Yanukovich said he was trying to negotiate and the opposition was simply delivering ultimatums.
Yushchenko's camp has pushed discussions on how to hold a new election, while Yanukovich has been offering concessions — such as making Yushchenko prime minister — designed to enable himself to assume the presidency.
"We are blamed for not wanting to continue negotiations. This is not so," Yanukovich said in televised remarks. "Even now I'm addressing Mr. Yushchenko. I am ready to sit down at the discussion table with him, in any format, and discuss those issues both parties have."
At the Supreme Court, Yushchenko's legal team has pressed judges with three requests: to annul the Central Election Commission decision declaring Yanukovich the winner, to declare the Nov. 21 runoff invalid, and to name Yushchenko president on the basis of his narrow victory in the first round of balloting Oct. 31 with a field of 24 candidates.
Many observers believe that the court may grant the first two points and refuse the third. That could set the stage for new elections — either a repeat of the runoff or an entirely new two-round election open to additional candidates. Yushchenko has supported the first alternative — a revote match between himself and Yanukovich this month — while Kuchma has endorsed the possibility of an entirely new election.
A poll conducted in the last week by the Razumkov Center polling agency found 48% support for Yushchenko and 36% support for Yanukovich if a repeat runoff election were held, the Russian news agency Interfax reported.
The opposition, which has rallied about 100,000 supporters in central Kiev nearly every evening since the crisis began, has indicated that a Supreme Court ruling in favor of Yanukovich will not end its struggle.
"If the Supreme Court makes a political decision in favor of Yanukovich I think the people on the squares will not disperse, and I think the political crisis will escalate to a degree where Yanukovich would not be able to rule in Ukraine," Yulia Tymoshenko, a key opposition leader, told reporters Tuesday.
Yanukovich said Tuesday that if fraud was proved, he could go along with the idea of an entirely new election, as long as both he and Yushchenko pulled out as candidates.
Yushchenko rejected all such proposals. "I want to stress the following: The election was rigged. Unless this problem is solved, it's too soon to resolve any other issues," he said, adding that his supporters "do not want me to become prime minister and somebody else to become president."
Associated Press contributed to this report.