KIEV, Ukraine – Supporters of Ukraine's two presidential candidates prepared on Saturday for talks to end the standoff over who won last weekend's runoff election, but prospects for success appeared slim after the opposition candidate said he will insist on new balloting.
Viktor Yushchenko (search), a Western-leaning reformist, told his cheering supporters that he would give the talks with his rival, pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych (search), two days at most to yield results.
Yushchenko's team expected the talks to begin Saturday, but there was no response yet from the Yanukovych camp.
Ukraine's 450-member parliament was to meet on Saturday in a special session where Yushchenko supporters were expected to call for a vote of no-confidence in the Central Election Commission. But the approximately 155 Yushchenko supporters lack the 226 votes needed to pass the measure without winning the support of nonaligned groups, such as the Communists.
Several thousand pro-Yushchenko protesters encircled parliament by midmorning, chanting "Yushchenko!" Police stood near the building's entrances and watched.
Outgoing President Leonid Kuchma presided at a meeting Friday with the two rivals and a delegation of key European envoys. Kuchma later said a working group had been established to find a solution to the crisis.
"Kuchma and Yanukovych want to drag out time," Ivan Plyushch, one of four Yushchenko supporters who will participate in the working group, told The Associated Press. "But if in the next two days the situation doesn't develop, we'll return to active measures." He refused to elaborate.
The Kremlin-backed Yanukovych was declared the winner of Sunday's election but cannot be inaugurated pending the hearing of an appeal to the Supreme Court filed by the Yushchenko camp. The court is to hear the case on Monday.
Meanwhile, regional courts are considering some 11,000 complaints about alleged voting fraud.
Yushchenko told his supporters that he would insist that new elections be held Dec. 12. He also demanded that the membership of the Central Election Commission be changed, absentee balloting be prohibited, the candidates be given equal access to the media and that international observers participate.
The Unian news agency quoted Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko as saying on Friday that Moscow regarded a potential revote favorably — an apparent significant retreat from its earlier insistence that the elections were fair and valid.
Pro-Yushchenko protesters kept up their weeklong vigil in Kiev, where hundreds of thousands have massed in the streets to protect what they insist was Yushchenko's election victory. Rising temperatures and wet snow on Saturday left their sprawling tent camp along a main avenue and the central Independence Square in a sea of slush, and many Yushchenko supporters — clad in orange rain ponchos — were trudging down the street with plastic bags tied around their shoes.
"I am not hopeful and don't have faith in talks, so I plan to stand on the square until the end," said Ruslan Pokatai, 23, of Sumy. He has already spent five nights in the cold but said he was willing to wait longer if it meant a Yushchenko presidency.
Yanukovych on Friday rallied some 2,000 supporters waving his blue-and-white campaign flags in front of Kiev's train station.
"I don't need power at the cost of spilled blood," Yanukovych said in remarks broadcast on TRK Ukraine television.
Before he brought both sides together, Kuchma called for an end to the mass demonstrations.
"Any revolution must end in peace," Kuchma said in a televised statement. "The sooner this so-called revolution ends, the better it will be for the Ukrainian people."
The nation of 48 million has been seized by the political crisis since last weekend's vote.
Moscow considers Ukraine part of its sphere of influence and a buffer between Russia and NATO's eastern flank. The United States and the European Union have said they cannot accept the results and warned Ukraine of "consequences" in relations with the West.
President Bush has said the world "is watching very closely" and he hoped the crisis would be "resolved in a way that brings credit and confidence to the Ukrainian government."
In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the Kremlin was concerned by the West's attempts to influence events in Ukraine, "especially when some European capitals say that they don't accept the elections and their next thesis is that Ukraine must be with the West"
In addition to driving a wedge between Russia and the West, the crisis has exacerbated the stark divide between the pro-Russian, heavily industrialized eastern half of Ukraine, where Yanukovych draws his support, and the west, Yushchenko's stronghold, which is a traditional center of nationalism.