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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 April 2007, 14:45 GMT 15:45 UK
Ukraine PM asks Austria to help
Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych (left) and President Viktor Yushchenko
The rival pair met for discussions on Thursday
Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych has asked Austria to mediate in his crippling political dispute with President Viktor Yushchenko.

Mr Yanukovych was speaking at a news conference. He says Mr Yushchenko acted illegally by calling a snap election.

Thousands of Mr Yanukovych's supporters are camping out on the streets of Kiev. His power base is the mainly Russian-speaking east of Ukraine.

Mr Yushchenko has vowed not to rescind his decree dissolving parliament.

He warned that anyone ignoring his order could be prosecuted.

"I stress again that this order is binding," he said. "Failing to fulfil it will result in criminal charges."

Restraint urged

But parliament has continued to operate and Mr Yanukovych has told the cabinet not to prepare for May's snap election until the constitutional court rules on the dispute.

"I have taken a decision to bring in international mediators: the Austrian chancellor - Austria is a neutral country - and well-known European legal experts," he said.

He said he may later ask Russia and Poland for help.

Supporters of PM Viktor Yanukovych in Kiev
Thousands of Yanukovych supporters are in central Kiev
Mr Yanukovych said he was seeking mediation "in order not to allow an escalation of the conflict, to avoid it growing into a civil confrontation and in order to bring the situation back into the legal sphere".

Meanwhile, the European Union foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, has urged restraint. He spoke to the president and prime minister by telephone and appealed for a political solution.

Mr Yanukovych's supporters have been staging big demonstrations in Kiev - where about 20,000 people have gathered for the third day in a row - and in Donetsk in the east.

Mr Yushchenko's power base is in western Ukraine, where support for Western-style liberal reforms is strong.

The rivalry started during the 2004 Orange Revolution, which eventually swept Mr Yushchenko into power.

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