KIEV -- Tens of thousands of opposition supporters, many of them haggard and shivering after 17 days of round-the-clock street protests, chanted and danced in triumph after parliament approved reforms yesterday to ensure a fair ballot in Ukraine's repeat presidential election.
The surprise vote in parliament was part of a compromise package that also included constitutional amendments to transfer some presidential powers to parliament -- but only after parliamentary elections in 2006, when backers of opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko hope to win a majority.
Yushchenko had earlier denounced the amendments as an attempt to render his likely election victory meaningless, but he appeared to have ended up strengthening his political standing by demonstrating an ability to find common ground with his opponents and solve a crisis that could easily have turned violent.
''During these 17 days we have gotten a new country," Yushchenko told the roaring crowds on Kiev's main Independence Square. ''We have realized that we are a European nation. We have grown confident that Ukraine's future can't be stolen."
Yushchenko supporters, who have besieged parliament and other official buildings in downtown Kiev for two weeks, broke into chants of ''Well done! Well done!" But many vowed to keep up their blockades.
''We won't lift the blockade until Yushchenko settles here," said Mykola Motruk, who has led a blockade of the presidential administration building with some 50 other people. As he spoke, his men sang songs and danced in a circle, raising fingers in a V-sign.
Yushchenko said the peaceful protests, dubbed the ''Orange Revolution" for his campaign color, had achieved their main goals: the Supreme Court's canceled the fraud-tainted victory of his Kremlin-backed opponent in the Nov. 21 presidential runoff and parliament passed reforms to ensure a fair vote.
''We have done all that without spilling a single drop of blood," Yushchenko said. ''Our conscience is clear."
Yushchenko urged supporters to focus on campaigning for his Dec. 26 rematch against Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, asking them to join local election commissions and become ballot monitors.
At the same time, Yushchenko did not call on his supporters to withdraw their pickets around government buildings -- as other opposition leaders had predicted. He said a sprawling tent camp on Kiev's main square and its central avenue will be reorganized -- but not disbanded.
''Those who are ready to continue their vigil in tent camps and pickets will stay," he said.
In his speech to supporters on the square, Yushchenko thanked police and the military for not resorting to force against the protesters.
''I want to thank the people in uniform that in this time of trials, they were together with the people," he said. ''Thank you for not putting your fingers on the trigger."
He also pledged, if elected, to maintain warm relations with all neighbors -- including Russia. President Vladimir Putin has staunchly backed Yanukovych and congratulated him on winning last month's vote while the opposition and the West charged fraud.
Yushchenko emerged from the 17-day political crisis a winner, succeeding in pressing home his demand for a rerun without having his supporters resort to violence.
But outgoing President Leonid Kuchma can also claim victory, by succeeding in cutting the powers of his successor.
The package was approved in a 402-21 vote with 19 abstentions. Lawmakers stood and cheered as Kuchma signed the measure.
Yushchenko said the electoral amendments place tight restrictions on absentee and home voting. The reforms make certain that opposition members are represented in local election commissions.
''I am confident of victory on Dec. 26," he said in a speech that ended with fireworks streaking over the frigid Ukrainian capital.
''This is a big victory," said one protester, Andriy Stepanchuk, 34, a railway worker. ''This is the day when people's opinions mattered."
Under the changes, the president no longer has the power to appoint his own government, but keeps the right to reject parliamentary nominees for the top three positions -- prime minister, foreign minister and defense minister. Parliament has the right to appoint all other Cabinet positions without presidential approval.
Campaigning in eastern Ukraine, Yanukovych said he was ''not happy" with the parliament decision, which he said was ''made under pressure" and described as a ''soft coup d'etat."
Lawmakers also replaced members of the Central Election Commission, ousting its chief, Serhiy Kivalov.