Ukraine’s prime minister, Viktor Yanukovich, has vowed to fight last week’s disputed presidential decree calling early parliamentary elections.

Writing in the Financial Times, he said: “The constitution of Ukraine defines specific circumstances under which the president has the right to dissolve parliament and call an early election. None of these existed.”

Backed by a majority of legislators, Mr Yanukovich has held firm in a two-week constitutional standoff with President Viktor Yushchenko that has plunged Ukraine into its worst political crisis since the Orange Revolution of 2004.

Last week, legislators loyal to Mr Yanukovich challenged the April 2 presidential decree in the constitutional court. His government has also ignored a presidential order demanding state funds be provided to organise the elections.

Without government backing, Mr Yushchenko’s chances of holding elections on May 27 as originally planned are at risk. Election observers in Kiev say preparations are behind schedule and short of funding.

Mr Yanukovich has said he would abide by the decree if it was found to be constitutional, but legal experts in Kiev said judges handling the case were divided on party lines and were not likely to produce a clear ruling that would end the stalemate. The first hearings have already been put off for a week.

With time against him, Mr Yushchenko hinted Thursday that he was open to a compromise that could postpone the elections.

In a televised press conference on Thursday, Mr Yushchenko defended his decision to dissolve a hostile parliament that, in his words, tried to usurp power by “unconstitutional” means.

Mr Yanukovich showed no sign of accepting a compromise on Thursday. Calling an early election without legal justification challenged one of the foundations of democracy: the rule of law, he wrote. Parties in Mr Yanukovich’s coalition have vowed to boycott the elections.

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