Ukraine edged closer to a break up as a powerful pro-Yanukovich region in the east of the country set a December referendum date for people to decide on whether the region should become autonomous. The decision at a rally in Severodonetsk near the Russian border raised the temperature in the stand off over Ukraine’s presidential elections.
Feelings ran high at the congress. However, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich refused to back the referendum and accused his rival Viktor Yushchenko of taking Ukraine to the edge of catastrophe. The spectre of break up has been on the lips of Ukraine’s leader since the crisis erupted, underscoring the longstanding divide between the nationalist west supporting Yushchenko and the industrial Russian-speaking east which is solidly behind the premier.