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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 bowed to opposition pressure and announced he would 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.

The White House welcomed the agreement.

"We support the efforts of all those who negotiated this agreement, commend the courageous opposition leaders who recognized the need for compromise, and offer the support of the United States in its implementation," it said in a statement Friday. "Now, the focus must be on concrete action to implement this agreement, which we will be monitoring closely."

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, who is among the officials the opposition holds responsible for the killing of dozens of anti-government protesters, and to amend the country's criminal code in a way that would permit 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."



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.



Also Thursday, European Union foreign ministers voted to impose sanctions on Ukrainian officials deemed responsible for orchestrating the violence in the capital. The measures include visa bans, asset freezes and restrictions on the export of anti-riot gear to the Ukrainian government. Washington imposed similar sanctions Wednesday.

Anti-government protests erupted in Ukraine in November, after Mr. Yanukovych backed away from a trade deal with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia.

Russia's Foreign Ministry said Friday that EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov discussed the situation in Ukraine by telephone earlier in the day.

The ministry said the call was made at Ashton's initiative and that Lavrov had "resolutely condemned the actions of radicals" -- an apparent reference to opposition activists, who he said bore the "principal responsibility" for the violence in Ukraine.

Earlier this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin sent his human rights ombudsman, Vladimir Lukin, to Ukraine to help mediate the talks between the Ukrainian government and opposition.

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