Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Deal hopes to end deadly crisis

Includes cut to president's powers, early elections

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Kyiv, Ukraine -- Under heavy pressure from the West following a deadly day of clashes and sniper fire in the capital, President Viktor Yanukovych and opposition leaders struck a deal Friday aimed at bringing Ukraine's three-month political crisis to an end. But radical protesters and some pro-Russian factions rejected it, leaving lingering doubts over whether peace could be restored.

On a day of electrifying developments, the Ukrainian parliament also opened a path for Yulia Tymoshenko -- Yanukovych's political nemesis -- to be let out of prison.

In spite of what looked like a significant government retreat, protesters booed opposition figures who took to a stage Friday evening to present the deal, which cuts Yanukovych's powers and calls for early elections, but falls short of demands for his immediate resignation.

"Death to the criminal!" some chanted, referring to Yanukovych.

"Resign! Resign! Resign!" shouted others as one radical speaker threatened to go on an armed offensive if the opposition doesn't demand the president's resignation by this morning.

Addressing the crowd in Kyiv's Independence Square, opposition leader Vitali Klitschko tried to persuade them Yanukovych had likely given all he was willing to give.

"He's not going to resign. This isn't realistic. We have to think about realistic steps," Klitschko said.

The agreement signed Friday calls for presidential elections to be moved up from March 2015 to no later than December, but many protesters said that is far too late. And it doesn't address the issue that set off the protests in November -- Yanukovych's abandonment of closer ties with the European Union in favour of a bailout deal with longtime ruler Russia.

The standoff between the government and protesters escalated this week as demonstrators clashed with police and snipers opened fire in the worst violence the country has seen since the breakup of the Soviet Union a quarter-century ago. The Health Ministry put the death toll at 77 and some opposition figures said it's even higher.

The U.S., Russia and the 28-nation EU are deeply concerned about the future of Ukraine, a divided nation of 46 million. The country's western regions want to be closer to the EU and have rejected Yanukovych's authority in many cities, while eastern Ukraine favours closer ties with Russia.

Hours after the deal was signed, Ukraine's parliament voted to restore the 2004 constitution that limits presidential authority, clawing back some of the powers Yanukovych had pushed through for himself after being elected in 2010.

Parliament then voted to fire the interior minister, Vitali Zakharchenko, who is widely despised and blamed for ordering police violence, including the snipers who killed scores of protesters Thursday in Kyiv, the capital that has been nearly paralyzed by the protests.

With Yanukovych's supporters quitting his party one after another Friday, legislators also approved an amnesty for protesters involved in violence.

Under the agreement, Ukrainian authorities also will name a new unity government that includes top opposition figures within 10 days.

The deal was a result of two days and all-night of shuttle diplomacy by top diplomats from Germany, France and Poland, who talked with the president and the opposition.

In Washington, White House press secretary Jay Carney said the deal is consistent with what the Obama administration was advocating, and the U.S. will closely monitor whether it is fulfilled, holding out the threat of more sanctions if it's not.

"The agreement is a necessary compromise in order to launch an indispensable political dialogue that offers the only democratic and peaceful way out of the crisis that has already caused too much suffering and bloodshed on all sides," European Union president Herman Van Rompuy said.

But neither side won all the points it sought, and some vague conditions could ignite strong disputes down the road.

The deal calls for protesters to hand over all their weapons, withdraw from buildings they have occupied and take down the camps they have erected around the country. It is far from clear if the thousands of protesters camped out in Kyiv's Independence Square -- known as the Maidan -- will pack up and go home.

 

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 22, 2014 A13

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