Ukraine crisis: Yanukovych announces 'peace deal'

Gabriel Gatehouse spent Thursday with protesters and witnessed the clashes up close

Ukraine's president says he has reached a deal with the opposition to end the crisis, after all-night talks mediated by three EU foreign ministers.

Viktor Yanukovych's statement said the agreement would be signed later.

However, the French foreign minister voiced caution, saying the deal was not definitive, and the opposition has not confirmed Mr Yanukovych's claim.

Protesters and police are still locked in a stand-off in Kiev, a day after dozens were killed in violent clashes.

Hours after Mr Yanukovych announced the deal, more violence was reported in central Kiev.

Analysis

As details of a possible deal to end Ukraine's crisis emerged, shots rang out on Independence Square, a reminder of the fragility, and continued combustibility, of the situation.

Numerous peace deals have been floated during the course of the conflict. But as in the American phrase, each one has been "a day late and a dollar short".

For a deal to work, it needs to be accepted by the various interested parties, of which there are many. In addition to the opposition parties and the government, there are the people in Ukraine's regions, especially in Mr Yanukovych's political base in the east, and especially the ethnic-Russian southern region of Crimea.

And there are the protesters themselves. On the Maidan, many are no longer shouting for President Yanukovych's resignation, they are calling for his head.

The police said they had traded gunfire with protesters, and Ukrainian media said riot police were patrolling inside parliament during a session.

MPs once again began their session with scuffles, as the speaker tried to adjourn a debate concerning constitutional changes.

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.

Thursday was the bloodiest day since the unrest began.

Police opened fire 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.

But activists suggested the death toll was likely to be much higher.

Protesters build a barricade on February 21, 2014 at the Independent square in Kiev. Protesters began rebuilding barricades in the Maidan (Independence Square) early on Friday
Anti-government protesters man the front line barricades following yesterdays clashes with police in Independence square, on February 21 The stand-off continues as opposition leaders discuss tactics with their colleagues, a day after dozens were shot by police
Anti-government protesters sleep in City Hall in Kiev February 21 Protesters are once again occupying official buildings, days after vacating them

The foreign ministers of France, Poland and Germany mediated talks between the opposition and government that continued through the night.

Early on Friday, the presidency said "parties agreed on the initialling of an agreement to resolve the crisis" - and the deal was to be signed at 12:00 (10:00 GMT).

Key dates

  • 21 Nov 2013: Ukraine suspends trade deal with the EU, triggering protests
  • 30 Nov: Riot police injure dozens in crackdown
  • 17 Dec: Russia agrees investment deal with Kiev
  • 19 Jan 2014: Several die in clashes between demonstrators and police
  • 18 Feb: Civilians and police officers killed in clashes
  • 20 Feb: A truce breaks down and dozens die in the worst day of violence since protests began

Ukrainian MPs said the deal involved constitutional changes to reduce the power of the president, and an early election.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who was involved in the talks, said he would be "cautious" about announcing any deal.

"The opposition in particular wants to be able to consult with some of its members, which is completely understandable," he said.

He said all sides at the talks had agreed not to issue a statement before everything had been agreed.

Analysts say that after Thursday's killings, the split between protesters and the government is becoming impossible to bridge.

Mr Fabius said the talks had been difficult because Ukraine "is or was on the verge of civil war".

Activist Kateryna Overchenko explains how the Mikhailivsky monastery in Kiev is now a makeshift hospital

Video footage on Thursday showed protesters walking directly towards the police, even as they fired handguns and rifles.

Police also shot protesters who went to help wounded colleagues.

Some of the protesters were armed with hunting rifles, and some threw petrol bombs.

There were also reports that dozens of police had been taken hostage.

But most of the protesters were unarmed, and tried to protect themselves from the bullets with homemade shields.

MPs voted to condemn the violence on Thursday in a motion supported by more than 30 members of Mr Yanukovych's Party of Regions.

Mr Yanukovych's authority was also hit by the defection of the mayor of Kiev and the resignation of the armed forces deputy general staff, Gen Yuriy Dumansky.

On Friday morning, a group of security forces personnel arrived in Kiev from the city of Lviv vowing to protect the protesters, after having apparently defected.

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