Europe and Russia to aid Ukraine solve the crisis

Ukraine's feuding presidential contenders were to sit down with European and Russian mediators later on Friday to try to resolve a crisis over a disputed election that has brought thousands out on to the streets.

A spokeswoman for outgoing &to=' target=_blank>President Leonid Kuchma announced the crisis talks after mass protests in support of opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko that blocked official buildings and challenged the government's control of the country.

Kuchma himself went on television to appeal for an end to the "so-called revolution," reports Reuters.

According to Evening Times, Yushchenko's camp yesterday filed an appeal of the Central Election Commission's final tally with the Supreme Court. Hours later, the court ordered that the results not be published until the appeal is heard. &to=' target=_blank>Yanukovych cannot be inaugurated until publication.

Although Yanukovych enjoys the backing of outgoing President Leonid Kuchma, Ukraine's Supreme Court is respected as an unbiased body. Yushchenko praised the decision, but told the crowd continuing its vigil in Kiev, "This is only the beginning." Yanukovych said: "I don't see any possibility for resolving this conflict by the path of ultimatums ... we should sit at the negotiating table."

The court decision is likely to prolong the tension that has followed the vote - the appeal will not be heard until Monday, giving the opposition time to fine-tune its civil disobedience campaign. Protesters in Kiev - which at times have numbered up to 200,000 - have braved freezing temperatures in Independence Square since Sunday's election, saying the ballot was rigged in favour of Yanukovych.

&to=' target=_blank>In Ukraine, the opposition launched a campaign of civil disobedience, although most of Kiev appeared to be functioning normally apart from severe traffic jams. Mr Yushchenko's coalition partner, Yuliya Timoshenko, urged supporters to begin a peaceful blockade of the government building and parliament. She said there would be moves to co-ordinate the blocking of highways to back a national strike.

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