Sat 27 November, 2004 14:53
By Melanie Cheary
THE HAGUE (Reuters) - The European Union believes a fresh presidential election would be the best outcome to a political crisis in Ukraine, the Dutch foreign minister says.
"We think the best, the ideal outcome would be elections," Bernard Bot, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, told reporters on Saturday. "If we are heading for elections, it should happen rather soon, before the end of the year."
Liberal challenger Viktor Yushchenko has demanded a fresh election be held on December 12 after the official count handed victory to Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich.
The EU has described the elections as falling far short of international democratic standards. Ukraine's parliament said on Saturday the poll was invalid.
With massive demonstrations, mainly by Yushchenko supporters, paralysing life in Kiev, talks on Friday between the two contenders and Russian and EU mediators produced little more than an agreement to set up a group to pursue discussions.
Bot said the EU's role as mediator in Ukraine did not prevent it from having an opinion. Ukraine shares a border with three EU member states -- Poland, Hungary and Slovakia.
"We are not interfering in the internal process of another country," he said at a briefing called after the return on Saturday of EU special envoy Niek Biegman from Kiev. "What we are saying is: act according to your principles, mend your ways, and have new elections."
Outgoing President Leonid Kuchma remained in charge of Ukraine's armed forces and had guaranteed they would not use force as long as the demonstrations were peaceful, Bot said.
"Kuchma is determined not to use any violence and to allow the process to continue," he added.
Bot said Moscow-backed Yanukovich should not be afraid of new elections if he won by the majority announced.
"We've said to him; If you are so far ahead, the population will reaffirm that."
Biegman had also met demonstrators and said the atmosphere was upbeat and peaceful.