President Viktor Yushchenko threw down the gauntlet to Ukraine's prime minister, standing by his dissolution of parliament and leaving his rival to put his case on Wednesday to cabinet ministers and diplomats.
The pro-Western president, swept to power by "Orange Revolution" rallies in 2004, told Premier Viktor Yanukovich during five hours of talks on Tuesday he would not go back on his decree calling a snap election to the assembly for May 27.
Yanukovich, who has dismissed the decree as a "fatal error" and vowed to ignore it while holding negotiations, made no comment after the meeting. His allies in parliament have asked the Constitutional Court to strike down the decree.
On Wednesday, he was due to address a regular meeting of his cabinet and then meet Western ambassadors.
Yushchenko has been sniping with Yanukovich since appointing his Moscow-friendly rival last August when it finally became clear that his own allies were unable to form a government.
Yushchenko's victory over Yanukovich in the re-run of a rigged 2004 election prompted hopes among liberals that Ukraine could cast off its Soviet legacy and move towards the West with the hope one day of joining the European Union and NATO.
But Yushchenko's supporters were disillusioned by rows in government ranks and what they saw as presidential indecision. His powers were cut by constitutional change and his personal ratings sank to single figures.
Yushchenko, disfigured by an attempt to poison him in 2004 during the bitterly fought election campaign, said he had dissolved parliament to "preserve the state" after accusing Yanukovich of illegally enlisting allies to expand the coalition backing him in parliament.
About 1,000 supporters of the prime minister spent the night in a tent camp by parliament, a much smaller version of the mass gatherings during the 2004 protests. Others helped erect a stage in Independence Square, the focal point of that mass upheaval.
But there was no noticeable tension in the city center.
"The meeting between the president and prime minister shows that the premier has a clearer picture of the new realities after parliament's dissolution," Viktor Baloga, presidential chief of staff, told Interfax Ukraine news agency.
Yushchenko's office said he had explained the reasons for his decree by telephone to EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Terry Davis, Secretary General of the Council of Europe human rights watchdog. The EU called for a peaceful, negotiated solution as did Russia and the United States.
In an article in Wednesday's edition of the Paris daily Le Figaro, Yushchenko said the actions of the premier and his allies were "unworthy of responsible democrats.
"I hope Mr Yanukovich understands that the forthcoming elections are the only reasonable way of solving this crisis," he wrote. "True democrats must never fear the verdict of the people."