Ukrainian Premier Viktor Yanukovych initiated talks on Friday with his chief rival, President Viktor Yushchenko, to discuss the political stalemate that has plunged the government of this ex-Soviet republic into its worst crisis since the 2004 Orange Revolution.
The pro-Western Yushchenko signed an order April 2 to dissolve parliament and call early elections, accusing the more Russian-leaning Yanukovych of trying to usurp power. Yanukovych and his majority in parliament have ignored the decree, calling it unconstitutional.
They appealed to the Constitutional Court, which began hearings on Tuesday.
Outside the courthouse, riot police stood guard Friday to separate thousands of rival demonstrators.
Both Yushchenko and Yanukovych have pledged to follow the court's ruling, but pressure is building on both men to find a political settlement amid allegations of influence-peddling and pressure on the 18-judge panel. Yushchenko's office said that Yanukovych had asked for talks, and Yanukovych postponed a special Cabinet session to meet with the president.
The men have held numerous face-to-face meetings but so far have failed to break through their deadlock.
During separate trips to western Europe this week by Yushchenko and Yanukovych, European officials expressed concern over the more than two-week crisis and urged both to resolve it by legal means.
Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who leads more than 120 of parliament's 450 lawmakers and is one of the strongest backers of new elections, has called the Constitutional Court hearings a farce.
She announced plans for a major rally on Kiev's European Square Friday night to echo the mass protests of the Orange Revolution, when hundreds of thousands of Yushchenko supporters turned out to protest against Yanukovych's fraud-marred presidential victory.
The Supreme Court overturned Yanukovych's victory and ordered a repeat vote, which Yushchenko won.
Yanukovych returned as premier in August after his party won the most votes in last year's parliamentary election, capitalising on widespread disappointment in Yushchenko's slow reforms and bickering among the Orange Revolution allies.
The awkward power-sharing between Yushchenko and Yanukovych quickly deteriorated into squabbling.