Source AP ©

Ukraine's leaders solve political crisis, agree to hold elections on September 30

Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich on Sunday agreed to hold an early parliamentary election on Sept. 30, defusing a months-long political crisis that had threatened to escalate into violence.

"A decision has been reached which is a compromise," Yushchenko told reporters after emerging from more than eight hours of tense talks early Sunday. "Now we can say that the political crisis in Ukraine is over."

Tensions between Yushchenko, who has sought to lead Ukraine into the European Union and NATO, and his rival, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, who seeks to preserve Ukraine's close ties with Moscow, have soared since the president ordered parliament disbanded in April and called new elections.

While Yanukovych later agreed to the snap vote, the leaders have bickered over its date, with Yushchenko calling to hold the election as soon as possible and Yanukovych insisting on an autumn vote.

The leaders' political struggle threatened to turn into a physical confrontation this week when Yushchenko ordered the dismissal of the nation's chief prosecutor, loyal to the prime minister, who refused to leave his office. Riot police surrounded the prosecutor's offices, preventing his eviction.

Yushchenko issued a decree Friday that put the nation's 32,000 Interior Ministry troops under his command, and then ordered several thousand troops to the capital, but most of the officers appeared to have been blocked outside Kiev Saturday by forces loyal to Yanukovych.

A Yushchenko ally confirmed the troops had been sent toward Kiev and Nikolai Mishakin, deputy commander of the interior troops said on television that nearly 3,500 officers had been prevented from entering the capital by officers answering to Yanukovych.

Yushchenko, however, denied he had sent additional interior troops to the capital.

He said he had only ordered 2,000 troops to Kiev to maintain order during this weekend's festivities in the capital, which he described as a routine procedure. Kiev residents are celebrating the capital's anniversary, and a major soccer game is scheduled Sunday.

Yanukovych said the leaders agreed that the country cannot be allowed to slide into violence and that such political crises should be avoided in the future.

"We will do everything so that this doesn't happen again," Yanukovych said.

Yushchenko said the parties have agreed that parliament would over the next several days vote on laws needed to hold the election, as well as on legislation needed to take the country out of the impasse _ bills that have been voted on after the legislature had already been dissolved as well as on a series of bills needed for Ukraine's joining the World Trade Organization.

Yushchenko dissolved parliament April 2 and ordered new elections, saying the prime minister and his coalition - which represents a majority of legislators - were trying to usurp the president's power.

But Yanukovych's supporters defied the order, calling it unconstitutional. The dispute resulted in an appeal to the Constitutional Court - as well as weeks of negotiations, accusations, dismissals and demands for resignations.

On Thursday, Yushchenko fired Prosecutor General Svyatoslav Piskun, a longtime foe and supporter of the prime minister, saying he could not hold the post while also serving as a member of parliament.

Security officers were sent to evict Piskun, but riot police loyal to Yanukovych formed a cordon around his offices to prevent it.

Piskun appealed to a Kiev court and said Friday that it had ruled to reinstate him; a Yushchenko aide denied that Saturday.

Parties loyal to the two feuding leaders warned Saturday that the long-running political struggle could dissolve into violence.

The president has struggled to govern Ukraine since 2004, when he initially lost a bitterly-fought presidential race against Yanukovych. Yushchenko was poisoned with dioxin in the course of the race, and the mystery of who might have done it, and why, has never been solved.

Yushchenko supporters charged the vote was rigged and staged weeks of street protests, called the Orange Revolution. A court later ordered a rerun of the election, which Yushchenko won.

Yanukovych staged a remarkable political comeback. In last year's parliamentary elections, his party won the largest share of seats, apparently benefiting from wide voter dissatisfaction with stalled reforms and internecine political sparring.