Deal struck in Ukraine
KIEV, Ukraine (AP) – 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 today 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 this 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 tomorrow morning.
Addressing the crowd in Kiev’s Independence Square, opposition leader Vitali Klitschko tried to persuade them that 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 today 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 does not address the issue that set off the protests in November – Yanukovych’s abandonment of closer ties with the European Union (EU) 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 United States, 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.