Kiev (AFP) – Ukraine’s leader and opposition on Friday signed a deal to end the splintered country’s worst crisis since independence after three days of carnage left nearly 100 protesters dead and the heart of Kiev resembling a war zone.
President Viktor Yanukovych’s dramatic decision to hold early elections and form a new unity government was met with caution by the tens of thousands gathered on central Kiev’s main square for a protest that began exactly three months earlier.
The deal was signed in the presidential palace’s Blue Hall in the presence of EU envoys by Yanukovych and and three top opposition leaders who included the charismatic boxer turned lamaker Vitali Klitschko.
But Russian President Vladimir Putin’s representative pointedly missed the meeting and his name card was taken off the table at which the leaders gathered for the signature ceremony.
The peace pact met the demands the opposition had laid down at the start of the protests: the balance of political power would shift back to parliament — as it had been before Yanukovych assumed the presidency in 2010 and took the nation of 46 million on a course away from the West and toward Russia.
It would also create an opposition cabinet with the authority to reverse Yanukovych’s decision in November to ditch an historic deal that would have put Ukraine on the path to eventual membership of the EU, which many Ukrainians see as their protector from centuries of Russian domination.
But the opposition has radicalized since police used live ammunition to mow down dozens with snipers and Kalashnikov rifles.
The chant of “death to the criminal” — a reference to two later-pardoned convictions for petty crime Yanukovych received in the Soviet era — rose over Kiev’s iconic Independence Square overnight Thursday.
“I think that Yanukovych must leave now, and never come back,” said a middle-aged protester named Lyudmila.
“We do not need any elections. He should not be allowed to run.”
– Frantic negotiations –
Three EU foreign ministers and a Russian envoy flew in for emergency talks on Thursday amid growing anxiety about a crisis that has turned Ukraine into a prize fought for with Cold War-era gusto by Moscow and the West.
The foreign ministers of EU powers France and Germany — as well as Ukraine’s culturally-close ally Poland — then went into separate talks with the opposition leaders in order to convince them to back the pact.