Europe

Ukrainian president and opposition sign early poll deal

  • 21 February 2014
  • From the section Europe

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and opposition leaders have signed a deal to try to end the political crisis in the country.

Under the agreement, a national unity government will be installed and a presidential poll will be held by the end of the year.

The deal, reached after mediation by EU foreign ministers, also sees electoral reform and constitutional changes.

Ukraine's parliament has voted to reduce the president's powers.

It also approved laws which could see the release of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.

The deal follows hours of talks and months of demonstrations on the streets of Kiev and other cities.

Dozens of protesters were killed by security forces on Thursday.

The deal has been met with scepticism by some of the thousands of protesters who remain on Independence Square in Kiev, with some saying they still did not trust President Yanukovych.

The opposition leaders who signed the deal were booed and called traitors by a crowd in Independence Square, the focal point of the protests, the BBC's Gavin Hewitt reports from Kiev.

The agreement, published by the German foreign ministry, includes the following:

  • The 2004 constitution will be restored within 48 hours, and a national unity government will be formed within 10 days
  • Constitutional reform balancing the powers of president, government and parliament will be started immediately and completed by September
  • A presidential election will be held after the new constitution is adopted but no later than December 2014, and new electoral laws will be passed
  • An investigation into recent acts of violence will be conducted under joint monitoring from the authorities, the opposition and the Council of Europe
  • The authorities will not impose a state of emergency and both the authorities and the opposition will refrain from the use of violence
  • Illegal weapons will be handed over to interior ministry bodies

The agreement was later signed by Mr Yanukovych and opposition leaders Vitali Klitschko, Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Oleh Tyahnibok at the presidential administration headquarters in Kiev.

Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski tweeted that the deal was a "good compromise for Ukraine" which would open the way "to reform and to Europe".

Mr Sikorski told reporters on his return to Warsaw that Russia had played a constructive role in reaching the agreement.

The White House has welcomed Friday's deal, praising "the courageous opposition leaders who recognised the need for compromise".

President Barack Obama is due to speak to his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, later on Friday.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron also welcomed the agreement and called on all sides in Ukraine to "get behind this deal and deliver it according to the timetable set out".

Mr Yanukovych (centre), opposition leaders and Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski (far right) observed a moment's silence at the signing for those who had died in recent violence
Opposition MPs reacted with joy during a session which voted to restore the 2004 constitution
Earlier, protesters began rebuilding barricades in the square after Thursday's clashes

Tymoshenko vote

Shortly after the deal was signed, Ukraine's parliament approved the restoration of the 2004 constitution, with all but one of the 387 MPs present voting in favour.

Mr Yatsenyuk said the vote was "the first step to restore order in Ukraine".

Parliament also approved an amnesty for protesters accused of involvement in violence and voted for the dismissal of Interior Minister Vitaliy Zakharchenko.

MPs voted for a change in the law which could lead to the release of Tymoshenko, an arch-rival of Mr Yanukovych.

She was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2011 for abuse of power. Her supporters say this was simply Mr Yanukovych taking out his most prominent opponent.

"I think what we're witnessing is the collapse of this absolutely bizarre and terrible dictatorship which was building up in the country," opposition politician Andriy Shevchenko told the BBC from the floor of parliament.

Dozens of MPs from Mr Yanukovych's own Party of Regions voted for the motions, in what correspondents say will be a humiliation for the president.

Bloodiest day

Despite the agreement, isolated outbursts of violence were reported in central Kiev on Friday morning.

It remains to be seen whether the deal will be enough to placate more radical elements of the opposition, including many in the west of Ukraine, who have been demanding Mr Yanukovych's resignation.

The protests first erupted in late November when President Yanukovych rejected a landmark association and trade deal with the EU in favour of closer ties with Russia.

The deal comes after the bloodiest day since the unrest began.

Police opened fire early on Thursday after protesters tried to push them away from the makeshift camps they have been occupying in central Kiev.

The health ministry said 77 people had been killed since Tuesday, and another 577 were injured.