KIEV, UKRAINE — PRESIDENT Leonid Kuchma says that Ukraine is at a crossroads and a confidence referendum he called in defiance of parliament's wishes would determine the former Soviet republic's future.
"We have before us an historic decision," he said Saturday. "The question at hand is not about power. It is much broader and deeper - which path should Ukraine take."
Mr. Kuchma, who favors economic reforms, called for a confidence referendum on both himself and parliament last week to end what he said was political deadlock with the mostly conservative assembly. Parliament vetoed the nonbinding poll a day later as unconstitutional and expensive.
But on Friday Kuchma pledged to proceed with the June 28 referendum anyway, a move certain to heat up the protracted power struggle between the two branches of power.
"The president has no other alternative but to turn to the chief arbiter - the nation. In today's conditions, the country has no opportunities," he said. Kuchma had long threatened to call the poll if parliament did not approve a law granting him more authority to issue decrees and the right to appoint government ministers.
DEPUTIES, reluctant to yield any authority, approved the law but failed to make the constitutional amendments needed to put it into effect. Socialist and Communist deputies consider Kuchma's market reforms socially destructive and many favor abolishing the post of president altogether.
Kuchma said he did not rule out finding some resolution with parliament when it meets today. But in the same breath he accused the assembly of trying to block his economic reforms.