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Ukraine's Kuchma dismisses protests

KIEV, Ukraine (CNN) -- Opposition members are hoping to attract 10,000 protesters to a Kiev rally on Sunday to demand the resignation of President Leonid Kuchma.

But despite accusations of corruption and a scandal over audio tapes in which Kuchma apparently orders the disappearance of a journalist, he told CNN's Jill Dougherty that there was no political crisis.

Kuchma dismissed the leaders of the street protests as a "destructive force comprising the extreme left and extreme right -- semi-fascists and anti-Semites who go to these demonstrations with swastikas."

"I completely reject the term political crisis. There is no crisis as such because all branches of government are working normally... there are some minor political storms in the capital but in the regions, it's very quiet."

The president has denied involvement in Heorhiy Gongadze's disappearance and the United States' Federal Bureau of Investigation has been invited to help investigate the case - a move dismissed by opponents as "blatant propaganda."

A mutilated corpse found near Kiev in November is widely believed to be Gongadze.

Weeks of street protests led by the Ukraine Without Kuchma Movement have led to an opposition village of 52 tents being erected in central Kiev, but Kuchma refuses to stand aside.

"For the President, the main task is to preserve the majority in Parliament that made it possible for the government to pass good laws, a deficit-free budget and adopt a privatizations package.

"And thanks to that, our GDP as well as our industrial production increased by six percent. For the first time in ten years agricultural output is up as well."

Kuchma eyes European integration

Kuchma told CNN that Ukraine's ultimate goal remains integration into Europe, but he fears the country is now at a critical stage.

"I hope people think about this. Either Ukraine will be a rich country with a worthy role in Europe or a half-wrecked barrier, a buffer zone, between East and West."

Since the Soviet collapse, ties between Russia and Ukraine have been marred by disputes over energy supplies and mutual accusations of discrimination against minorities -- Russians in Ukraine and Ukrainians in Russia.

But, two weeks after receiving Russian President Vladimir Putin for talks, Kuchma said trade and technology still bound the two countries -- while not infringing on Ukraine's national interests.

"I am convinced that the entire world, including the U.S., is interested in having stability in this region, that Ukraine and Russia are partners and not adversaries.

"I always give this example. How can the U.S. and Canada be on a par with each other and for some reason Ukraine is expected to be either in union with Russia or subservient to it? Let's be partners, that's in everybody's interest."

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Parliament of Ukraine

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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