Outgoing President Leonid Kuchma remained at loggerheads with the opposition.

The outcome fell short of a tentative agreement announced on Monday by the opposition under which Kuchma would fire the government.

“When the parties do not reach consensus, they make a statement to the press,” he told reporters when talks broke up at 2am in Kiev.

He and the opposition are arguing over separate legislative changes that each wants passed, over the other’s objections, ahead of a fresh runoff ballot on December 26th.

The main sticking point is constitutional changes that would transfer important powers from the president to parliament.

Kuchma has been trying to get the measure passed for more than a year in what analysts say In what analysts say is an attempt to keep hold on the reins of power after his decade of oft-authoritarian leadership comes to an end in early January,

But opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko is opposing the changes, as they effectively strip him of important powers should he win the ballot.

His party opposition wants changes to commence after the next legislative elections in 2006, during which it hopes to increase its representation in parliament.

But in a delicate political act, Yushchenko needs Kuchma’s support on electoral changes he wants introduced before the poll to guard against fraud.

Election authorities declared Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych the winner of last month’s election, but Mr Yushchenko and foreign observers said it was marred by massive fraud.

On Friday Ukraine’s Supreme Court agreed, and ordered a re-run of the second round.

The talks had been conducted in conjunction with foreign mediators in Kiev, mediated by the EU foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, and the Secretary General of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Jan Kubis.

Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus and Russian envoy Boris Gryzlov were also taking part.

The roundtable talks were the third time in less than a fortnight that European heavyweights tried to resolve the clash.

But they’ve been coldly greeted in Moscow.

Warning against what he sees as foreign interference in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the West of trying to force its vision of democracy on the countries of the former Soviet Union

In his first public comments since the Supreme Court ruling, President Putin said countries were welcome to help mediate Ukraine’s crisis, but shouldn’t meddle.

“Only the people of any country – and this includes Ukraine in the full sense – can decide their fate,” he said during a visit to Turkey.

“One can play the role of a mediator but one must not meddle and apply pressure.”

On the eve of the Friday decision, Putin had ridiculed Mr Yushchenko’s call for a repeat of the poll.

He again staked his position very clearly on the side of the pro-Russian Mr Yanukovych.

The November election split the strategic nation of 48 million and provoked a clash reminiscent of the Cold War between the West and Russia.

Foreign ministers from the 55-nation OSCE are meeting in the Bulgarian capital, Sofia to discuss how the new poll should be run.

Their plan on doubling the number of poll monitors to 1,000 has been boosted by Canada’s decision to send up to 500 observers for the vote.