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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.

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.

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."

U.S. officials said President Barack Obama would discuss the agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin by telephone Friday.

Earlier this week, Mr. Putin, sent his human rights ombudsman, Vladimir Lukin, to Ukraine to help mediate the talks between the Ukrainian government and opposition. The Russian president has been a staunch supporter of President Yanukovych.

The Reuters news agency Friday quoted one of the EU diplomats who helped broker the deal, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, as saying that Russia played a "constructive role" in achieving agreement in Ukraine.

Still, Russia's Foreign Ministry on Friday said Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had "resolutely condemned the actions of radicals" -- an apparent reference to Ukrainian opposition activists -- in a telephone conversation Friday with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. Lavrov said they bore the "principal responsibility" for the violence in Ukraine.

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.



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."



European Union foreign ministers voted Thursday 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.

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