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Ukraine parliament to work on constitution bill

Anti-government protesters march on the street in Kiev February 6, 2014. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili
Anti-government protesters march on the street in Kiev February 6, 2014. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili

KIEV (Reuters) - The parties in Ukraine's deadlocked parliament agreed on Thursday to try to draft a joint bill on constitutional amendments that could be put to a vote as early as next week, the speaker said.

Opposition leaders, backed by protesters in the streets, want a return to a constitution enacted in 2004 that would move substantial powers over the government from the president to parliament - a proposal rejected by President Viktor Yanukovich and his supporters, who have had a majority in the legislature.

Speaker Volodymyr Rybak, from Yanukovich's Party of the Regions, said leaders of the parliamentary groups would meet in committee with himself and representatives of the president with the aim of producing a bill within the next few days.

"Next week, we should take a decision - maybe on Tuesday, Wednesday - to consider this draft law," he told lawmakers.

Party loyalties in the 450-seat, single-chamber parliament have been fluid. It remains unclear that a consensus can be found to change the constitution or that the opposition can rally a majority to push through the amendments it wants.

Yanukovich is expected to name a new prime minister soon to replace the premier who stepped down last week in a so far unsuccessful effort to appease opponents who have occupied central Kiev and public buildings in other cities.

Ultimately, opposition leaders and protesters want rid of Yanukovich, whose rule they see as dominated by corrupt business interests and by pressure from neighboring Russia.

Protests began in November when the president spurned a trade deal with the European Union and turned for financial aid to Moscow. The confrontation in Ukraine has divided Western powers, the EU and United States, which back the opposition, from Russia, which supports Yanukovich.

(Reporting by Natalia Zinets; Writing by Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Alison Williams)

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