Ukraine Opposition Removes Blockades

Opposition protesters lifted their two-week siege of Ukraine's Stalin-era Cabinet headquarters Thursday, a day after parliament adopted electoral laws to ensure a fair ballot in the repeat presidential runoff.

The dismantling of three barricades near the building came after opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko (search) urged supporters to focus on campaigning for his Dec. 26 rematch with Kremlin-backed Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych (search).

Many Yushchenko supporters spent the morning preparing to leave the capital after a night of celebrations. But thousands of others said they will stay in tent camps near Kiev's main Independence Square.

"This is a sad and happy day at the same time," said Oleksiy, a protester who gave only his first name. "We endured more than two weeks and now we are leaving, but we are leaving as winners."

Pora (search), a pro-democracy youth group that played a key role in the street protests, told its student members to return to school. "After fulfillment of our civic duty, we say: "It is time for classes," said Pora, which means "It's Time" in Ukrainian.

A blockade remained in place near the office of outgoing President Leonid Kuchma, but Roman Zvarych, a member of Yushchenko's campaign staff, said he believed it would also be removed.

Yushchenko said the peaceful protests, dubbed the "Orange Revolution" for the opposition leader's signature campaign color, achieved their goals — cancellation of Yanukovych's fraud-tainted victory in the Nov. 21 runoff and approval of changes to prevent the new vote from being rigged.

Wednesday's parliamentary vote endorsed a compromise package that included electoral reform in exchange for handing over some presidential powers to parliament. Lawmakers also ousted the chief of the Central Election Commission.

Yanukovych's campaign chief, Taras Chornovil, rejected opposition claims that his candidate's supporters could try to derail the new vote. He said he was concerned ballots for Yanukovych were at risk.

"They cried thief because it was them who stole," Chornovil said. "It was our victory that has been stolen, not Yushchenko's."

The Supreme Court ruling that annulled Yanukovych's runoff victory was also a blow to Russia, which has staunchly backed his candidacy for fear that Yushchenko would lead Ukraine away from the Kremlin's orbit.

Zvarych, the Yushchenko campaign worker, said that even though parliament had voted to weaken the presidency, Yushchenko would have time to pursue economic and other reforms before the changes take effect in 2006.

"We need these powers for president only to destroy all the evil ... to set a democratic order," he said.

Also Thursday, Kuchma fired Prosecutor General Hennady Vasylyev. Yushchenko's supporters had accused Vasylyev of covering up election fraud and failing to prosecute separatist moves.

Yushchenko's supporters announced they would conduct a car rally on a 2,500-mile route spanning southern and eastern regions of Ukraine.

"We are one nation, we are one state," said Vasyl Kuderyavets, one of the organizers of the rally.