February 21, 2014
Ukraine President and Opposition Leaders Sign Deal to End Crisis
Ukraine's president and three opposition leaders signed a deal Friday to end the political crisis that erupted in violence this week, leaving dozens dead.
Earlier, President Viktor Yanukovych said Ukraine would hold early elections and promised to form a coalition government. He also vowed to make constitutional changes to reduce the powers of his office.
The Ukrainian president's announcement came after all-night talks between representatives of his government and the opposition, brokered by the foreign ministers of Germany, France, and Poland.
The specifics of the deal have not been made public, but the Reuters news agency quoted one of the three European Union mediators, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, as saying that it included a return to the 2004 constitution, the creation of a national unity government, and an early presidential election, set for this year.
Just before the deal was inked Friday, another EU mediator, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, posted on Twitter: "We are about to sign. Good compromise for Ukraine. Gives peace a chance. Opens the way to reform and to Europe. Poland and the EU support it."
Before the deal was signed, at least one opposition leader said he would insist on certain conditions. The Interfax-Ukraine news agency quoted Oleh Tyahnybok, leader of the nationalist Freedom party, as saying that a new government must not include Interior Minister Vitali Zakharchenko or Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka.
Meanwhile, police who had been guarding the Ukrainian parliament building in Kyiv left the area Friday afternoon. Earlier, shots were reportedly fired near the Ukrainian capital's Independence Square, the epicenter of the anti-government protests. The Ukrainian government blamed the gunshots on protesters.
Ukraine suffered its bloodiest day since Soviet times on Thursday as battles erupted in central Kyiv between riot police and anti-government protesters. Dozens of people were killed, some by government sniper fire, with some reports putting the single day death toll over 70.
Hundreds of others were reported wounded.
Elsewhere, television footage from the western city of Lviv showed scenes of chaos, as anti-government protesters firebombed government buildings and some police declined to intervene.
The White House said Thursday it was "outraged by the images of Ukrainian security forces firing automatic weapons on their own people." The U.S. statement called on President Viktor Yanukovych "to immediately withdraw his security forces from downtown Kyiv and to respect the right of peaceful protest." It also urged protesters to "express themselves peacefully" and pressed the Ukrainian military "not to get involved in a conflict that can and should be resolved by political means."
In Brussels, European Union foreign ministers agreed in emergency session Thursday to impose sanctions on Ukrainian officials deemed responsible for orchestrating the violence in the capital. The measures would include visa bans, asset freezes and restrictions on the export of anti-riot gear to the Ukrainian government. Washington imposed similar sanctions Wednesday.
The talks in Kyiv were brokered by the foreign ministers of Germany, France, and Poland. The president's web site said Russia was also involved in the talks.
Mr. Yanukovych and the leaders of anti-government protests had agreed on a truce Wednesday, saying it was aimed at "ending the bloodshed and stabilizing the situation...in the interests of social peace." The truce dissolved within hours.
Anti-government protests erupted in November, after after Mr. Yanukovych backed away from a trade deal with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia.