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Ukraine President Announces Early Elections

Ukraine's president says the country will hold early elections and promised to form a coalition government in an effort to end a violent poltical crisis that has escalated over the past week.

President Viktor Yanukovych also vowed to make constitutional changes to reduce the powers of his office. The announcement came after all-night talks between representatives of his government and the political opposition, brokered by European Union diplomats. A senior EU diplomat said the government and opposition were expected to sign a preliminary agreement Friday. The oppositon has not commented.

Meanwhile, reports say shots were fired Friday near Kyiv's Independence Square, the epicenter of the anti-government protests. The Ukrainian government has blamed the gunshots on protesters battling police, but that report has not been confirmed.

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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