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Troops blocked outside Kiev, as Ukraine's president, premier battle over security forces

Troops blocked outside Kiev, as Ukraine's president, premier battle over security forces

President Viktor Yushchenko summoned several thousand interior troops to the Ukrainian capital but forces loyal to the nation's prime minister stopped them outside Kiev, raising fears that the two leaders' months-long struggle could turn violent.
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 been building since the president ordered parliament disbanded in April and called new elections.
But the 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 has ordered some of them to the capital.
Ivan Plyushch, the head of the national security council, said Saturday the president had ordered the troops into Kiev to forestall violence, although some feared it might have the opposite effect.
"Moving the interior troops into the city is necessary to guarantee a calm life for the city, to prevent provocations," Plyushch was quoted as saying on the presidential Web site.
Plyushch did not say how many troops have been sent, but Nikolai Mishakin, deputy commander of the interior troops said on Ukraine's Channel 5 television that nearly 3,500 officers had been prevented from entering the capital by forces loyal to Yanukovych. Mishakin promised that his troops would not resort to violence since none of them had firearms.
Associated Press Television showed footage of several convoys of buses carrying interior ministry troops stopped on their way to Kiev from central and western provinces. Dozens of officers got out of the buses and waited patiently in the forest by the highway _ some laying on the grass, others drinking water, smoking and chatting with each other and appearing relaxed.
Yuri Ivakin, a senior official in the Kiev city administration loyal to Yanukovych, stopped two buses outside the capital. He told the AP that he would try to turn troops back to their bases. Channel 5 later reported that the officers left the buses and marched to Kiev.
Yanukovych and Yushchenko, along with other top political leaders, held another round of negotiations Saturday in the presidential offices in an effort to defuse the latest crisis. Earlier meetings ended without visible progress.
As the two rivals met inside, flag-waving supporters of both leaders staged competing rallies outside. A thin line of police separated the rival demonstrators.
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.
Both Yushchenko and Yanukovych have agreed to abide by the court's decision, but the court, which is supposed to have 18 members, has met for weeks without result. Its deliberations were complicated by Yushchenko's orders to fire the chief judge and two other justices.
On Thursday, Yushchenko fired Prosecutor General Svyatoslav Piskun, a longtime foe and supporter of the prime minister. The president said Piskun could not serve as the country's chief prosecutor while acting as a member of parliament.
Security officers were sent to evict Piskun, but riot police loyal to Yanukovych immediately formed a cordon around his offices to prevent it.
Piskun appealed to a Kiev district court. Late Friday, he said the court ruled to reinstate him. The ruling could not be immediately confirmed and a Yushchenko aide said Saturday that the story was not true.
Parties loyal to the two feuding leaders warned Saturday that the long-running political struggle could dissolve into violence.
Prime Minister Yanukovych's allies called for calm and restraint, but warned they would not back down in the dispute.
Vasyl Tsushko, the interior minister and an ally of Yanukovych, promised he would not initiate any violence. But his deputy, Korniyenko, said the ministry would fend off any attempts to take the building by force. "Let them try, we have what we need to respond," Korniyenko said.
Piskun, the fired prosecutor, lamented that "cannon fodder was being sent to Kiev," adding that he would not hesitate to fire officials who violate the law.
"As long as I'm prosecutor general in this country, there will be no scenario involving force," he told reporters. "If there is a need to arrest interior troops chiefs who violate laws, I will arrest them."
Analysts said Yushchenko summoned troops to Kiev to pressure Yanukovych to agree on an early date for the new parliamentary elections, rather than preparation for a violent confrontation.
"I think these maneuvers with security forces are meant to give the president a chance to maneuver at talks," said Vadim Karasyov, head of the Kiev-based Institute on Global Strategies.
While Ukrainians were concerned by the mounting tensions, many hoped that politicians would find a peaceful way out of the crisis.
"Everybody understands very well that a struggle for power is underway," said Dennis Lyubyvy, a 28-year-old Kiev manager. "And I don't believe that in this struggle for power politicians will order to kill."
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 the country's stalled reforms and internecine political sparring.