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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 scores dead.

The agreement's provisions include returning to the 2004 constitution, which would decrease the powers of the presidency and increase those of the parliament, setting up a national unity government within 10 days and holding an early presidential election later this year.

The deal was signed after President Viktor Yanukovych announced he had agreed to hold early elections, form a coalition government, and make constitutional changes.

His announcement followed all-night talks between representatives of his government and the opposition, brokered by the foreign ministers of Germany, France, and Poland.

Shortly after the agreement was signed Friday, Ukraine's parliament voted to restore the 2004 constitution.

It also voted to remove Interior Minister Vitali Zakharchenko, whom the opposition holds responsible for the killing of dozens of anti-government protesters, and amended the country's criminal code in a way that could lead to the release of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko from prison.

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."



But Ruslan Deynychenko of VOA's Ukrainian Service, who witnessed this week's violence in Kyiv, said Friday's agreement might be hard to sell to anti-government demonstrators who saw comrades killed.



"The problem is that people on Maidan, protesters, they don't think it is enough because they demand the immediate resignation of [the] president, because they believe he is responsible for orders to kill peaceful protesters."



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, also known as Maidan -- the epicenter of the anti-government protests. The Ukrainian government blamed the gunfire 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.

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