Ukraine President signs deal with 3 opposition leaders to end political crisis


Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych today reached an agreement with three opposition leaders to end the three-month long political crisis that took a deadly turn this week.

At least 75 people have been killed – many by sniper fire – in clashes with police in Kiev’s Maidan [Independent] Square since Tuesday. The escalation of violence prompted the United States and the European Union to impose targeted sanctions, including visa bans and freezing assets on Ukrainian government officials deemed to be “responsible for human rights violations, violence, and the use of excessive force.”

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Faced with the sanctions, growing international pressure, and Ukraine’s worsening fiscal conditions that resulted in S&P’s downgrade of the country’s credit rating, Yanukovych assented to early presidential elections before the end of this year. However, some factions of the protesters are insisting on Yanukovych’s immediate resignation, and it’s not clear whether the agreement will be accepted by the more hard-line protesters.

The agreement – signed by Yanukovych and opposition leaders Vitali Klitschko, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, and Oleh Tiahnybok in the presence of foreign ministers of Germany, Poland, and France – will set the deadline for reforms of the Constitution, dealing particularly on the balance of power between the President and the Parliament, by September. Early presidential elections will be held after the new Constitution is adopted, but elections must be held no later than December.

Read more: Police crack down on demonstrators in Ukraine, EU & US condemn excessive force

The agreement also will restore the 2004 Constitution pending constitutional reforms, form a technocratic government within 10 days, grant amnesty to protesters, investigate the recent acts of violence (monitored by the opposition and the Council of Europe), and urge police and demonstrators to refrain from the use of force. No martial law will be declared.

In a written statement, Yanukovych said the steps outlined in the agreement are needed to “restore peace and avoid more victims of the confrontation.

“There are no steps that we must not do together to restore peace in Ukraine,” said Yanukovych.

European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton welcomed the agreement.

“This agreement opens the way for a political solution to the crisis in Ukraine. A democratic and peaceful solution is the only way forward,” said Ashton. “I call upon the signatories to respect the agreement and recall full Ukrainian ownership and responsibility for its immediate implementation.”

The White House called for the “immediate implementation of the initial steps – an end to the violence, amnesty and security normalization, and passage of the constitutional package in the Rada – to provide space for the negotiations to begin on the formation of a technocratic coalition government.”

“Respect for the right of peaceful protest – including on the Maidan – is essential,” according to the White House statement. “There must be accountability for those responsible for the violence and the casualties that have resulted since this crisis began, and we remain prepared to impose additional sanctions as necessary.”

A senior State Department official acknowledged the “difficulty” in persuading protesters in the Maidan that “this negotiated solution is the best way forward.”

“It may not give them everything that they want immediately, but that it would prevent further bloodshed,” the official said. “This has been a very tough sell and it will continue to be a tough sell for the opposition to make to those on the streets.”

The official noted that in the midst of the extremely emotional atmosphere in Maidan after the “horrible, horrible violence”, there are some “radical” members of the opposition who have declared that they will not give up their weapons and will continue to occupy the some of the government buildings.

Shortly after the agreement was reached, the Ukrainian Parliament – or the Rada – approved the restoration of the 2004 Constitution, paving the way for the formation of new coalition government. 386 members of Parliament voted in favor of the restoration. The Rada also approved amnesty for the protestors with 372 votes.

Separate from the agreement, the Rada voted to fire Interior Minister Vitaliy Zakharchenko, who many hold responsible for the excessive use of force by police against protestors.  A senior State Department official said he hasn’t been able to verify reports that Zakharchenko has fled to Belarus.

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