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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 December, 2004, 13:20 GMT
Ukraine poll call by Russia-Nato
Protesters' camp in Kiev
The protest is scaling down but will remain until after the poll
Former Cold War foes Nato and Russia have issued a joint statement calling for free and fair elections in Ukraine.

The statement came as Nato and Russian foreign ministers met in Brussels and follows weeks of tension between Moscow and the West over the disputed poll.

Nato chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer hailed the agreement with Russia as a "major breakthrough", AFP news agency said.

Meanwhile, government workers in Ukraine have been returning to work as the opposition scales down its protest.

The lull follows a compromise deal made in parliament which paves the way for a re-run of elections on 26 December.

"We appealed to all parties to continue to avoid the use or instigation of violence, to refrain from intimidation of voters, and to work to ensure a free, fair electoral process that reflects the will of the Ukrainian people," the joint Nato-Russia statement said.

November's bitterly fought election in the former Soviet republic caused tensions between Russia and the EU.

Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych - who initially claimed victory - was backed by Moscow, while his rival Viktor Yushchenko had the support of western countries.

But Mr de Hoop Scheffer denied there was an east-west clash and said, as the Brussels meeting began, that he was confident Russia and Nato would "find significant common ground".

Tent city 'reorganised'

In Ukraine, Mr Yushchenko's orange army of supporters lifted blockades around government buildings, allowing public sector workers through after 17 days of protest.

A member of staff with the cabinet of ministers appeared relieved. "I am glad it's over," said Ivan Volkov. "It was incredibly irritating."

A few days are left to us for final victory. I call on you to be especially active in these days
Opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko

But, although the protest is scaling down, many say they will stay on the street until Mr Yushchenko wins.

Mr Yushchenko himself said the mini tent city that has sprung up would be reorganised but not removed.

"A few days are left to us for final victory. I call on you to be especially active in these days," he told thousands of supporters in Kiev's Independence Square.

He was speaking after a compromise package of reforms was approved by MPs on Wednesday.

They include electoral law changes demanded by the opposition, and transfers some presidential powers to parliament.

Mr Yushchenko believes the changes open the way for him to be voted president in the repeat of the run-off.

Mr Yanukovych, however, has said he was not happy with Wednesday's parliamentary vote.

Speaking in eastern Ukraine, he described the move as a "soft coup d'etat", adding: "All the decisions were made under pressure."

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