Friday, February 21, 2014

Ukraine Announces Tentative Accord To End Crisis

KIEV, Ukraine -- European diplomats said on Friday that opposition leaders had agreed to sign an agreement with President Viktor F. Yanukovych to defuse the deadly political crisis here, although it was unclear whether they were demanding additional concessions from the government.

Protesters worked to reinforce barricades in Kiev on Friday.

The Germany Foreign Ministry announced in a Twitter message that the leadership council of the Ukrainian protest movement had authorized the signing of the deal, which calls for early presidential elections, a coalition government and reduction of presidential power through constitutional reforms.

A spokeswoman for the protest movement told The Associated Press that opposition leaders were headed for the president’s office to discuss the agreement.

Any deal that does not include the president’s departure, however, is unlikely to get the approval of the mass of protesters and it was uncertain whether, in the event of a final deal, the protest movement’s political leadership could deliver the support of an angry base comprising many different groups and factions.

Several demonstrators in the street said that the Yanukovych plan was unacceptable and that the so-called opposition leadership did not speak for them.

The government announced the agreement early Friday after days of bloodshed in which scores of protesters and security officers died and hundreds were injured in Kiev, the capital.

Opposition representatives have not publicly commented on the agreement or the president’s apparent concessions, but leaders of the demonstrators on Independence Square in Kiev, the capital, called for their supporters to remain calm and avoid provoking the security forces.

Previous agreements and truces have collapsed, although those deals were not reached with the involvement of high-level European Union and Russian mediators, as was the case in the overnight talks Friday.

The statement from Mr. Yanukovych’s office said the talks had been “very difficult.” 

The statement said that negotiators had agreed to initial an agreement to “settle the crisis,” and that it would be signed later on Friday.

In one indication of a possible easing of tensions, the Ukrainian Finance Ministry formally canceled plans to issue the latest installment of below-market-rate eurobonds for purchase by the Russian government, the form of financial aid that the Kremlin had been providing.

The protesters want Ukraine to have closer ties with the European Union and the government’s rejection late last year of an accord to expand relations with Europe triggered the protest movement.

The announcement on the Irish Stock Exchange, which had planned to manage the transaction, was posted late Thursday evening in Ukraine, as the talks began.

The cancellation of this bond issue left open the prospect that Ukraine would back away from the Russian aid deal.

The agreement that could end the violence came after the bloodiest day in the three-month-old confrontation.

On Thursday, security forces fired on masses of antigovernment demonstrators in the capital, Kiev, in a drastic escalation that left dozens dead and Ukraine reeling from the most lethal day of violence since Soviet times.

By late Thursday evening, the choices for Mr. Yanukovych had narrowed to a stark dilemma between a massacre of protesters or negotiation: exhausted and outnumbered riot police officers had withdrawn from their positions in front of the cabinet building and the Parliament, leaving 500 yards of eerily empty pavement between the last protest barricade near the Dynamo soccer stadium and the seats of power.

But the windows of the cabinet building were fortified with sandbags to create firing positions onto the street below, the only option left to defend the building as talks continued through the night elsewhere in the capital with the opposition and the European and Russian envoys.

European officials greeted the news of an agreement with caution, with some indicating it was premature to say an accord had really been reached.

Many observers noted that Mr. Yanukovych’s office had announced an agreement but there was no immediate corroboration from the opposition.

Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister who helped mediate the talks, said much remained unresolved.

“As long as things are not effectively completed, we must remain very prudent,” he said, according to The Associated Press.

“The opposition wants to consult a certain number of its supporters, which is understandable,” Mr. Fabius said, according to The A.P.

“We discussed all subjects during these negotiations. It was done in an extremely difficult atmosphere, because there were dozens of dead and the country is on the verge of civil war.”

Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski of Poland, who was also in Kiev as a mediator, announced an end to the talks on Twitter just before the Ukrainian government’s statement.

“After negotiations through the night, talks ended at 7:20,” Mr. Sikorski wrote.

Prime Minister Donald Tusk of Poland said Friday that a draft agreement had been agreed on, but indicated it was too early to suggest that the crisis had ended.

“The agreement has not yet been reached. What’s been settled is the agreement’s draft,” he was quoted as saying by Reuters.

Britain’s minister for Europe, David Lidington, told the BBC that there were “proposals on the table” for a political solution in Ukraine but that those had not yet been agreed by all the parties.

The agreement came after a day after the security forces fired on antigovernment demonstrators in Kiev.

The shootings followed a quickly shattered truce, with enraged protesters parading dozens of captured police officers through Kiev’s central square.

Despite a frenzy of East-West diplomacy and negotiations, there was little sign that tensions were easing.

Mr. Yanukovych lost at least a dozen political allies, including the mayor of the capital, who resigned from his governing Party of Regions to protest the bloodshed.

Mr. Yanukovych conferred with three foreign ministers from the European Union who had come to press for a compromise solution, practically within sight of the main conflict zone in central Kiev.

Images of bullet-riddled bodies slumped amid smoldering debris, some of them shot in the head, and screaming medics carrying the dead and wounded to emergency clinics, including one in a hotel lobby, shocked the country and many people around the world.

The opposition said that at least 70 and as many as 100 people had been killed, while the municipal authorities put the day’s death toll at 39.

There were signs late Thursday that Mr. Yanukovych might be moving closer to compromise, apparently expressing willingness to hold presidential and parliamentary elections this year, as the opposition has demanded.

But given the hostility and mistrust on both sides, aggravated by the deadly mayhem that has engulfed central Kiev, the prospects of any agreement seemed remote — particularly now that many of the president’s adversaries say they will settle for nothing less than his resignation.

About the only thing that was clear early Friday was that protesters had reclaimed and even expanded territory in the center of Kiev that they had lost just two days earlier when the police began a bloody but unsuccessful assault on Independence Square, which has been the focal point of protests since late November.

The widespread use of firearms in the center of the city was a new and ominous element for the protest movement.

Late Thursday, the U.S. State Department issued a new travel warning in light of the violence, urging against “all nonessential travel to Ukraine due to the ongoing political unrest and violent clashes between police and protesters.”

Earlier Thursday, there had been rumors that Mr. Yanukovych, his police ranks stretched thin, might declare a state of emergency, a move that could herald the deployment of the military to help quell the crisis in the former Soviet republic of 46 million.

But his authority to do so was unclear.

Opposition leaders convened a session of Parliament late Thursday, and together with defectors from the pro-government party they passed a resolution obliging Interior Ministry troops to return to their barracks and the police to their usual posts, and prohibiting the use of firearms against protesters.

It also asserted that only lawmakers, rather than the president, could declare a state of emergency.

Perhaps more than these assertions, the vote was significant for signaling that Mr. Yanukovych had lost control of a majority in Parliament.

Both the United States and the European Union, which made good on pledges to slap punitive sanctions on Ukrainian officials deemed to be responsible for the deadly escalation, warned Mr. Yanukovych to avoid declaring a state of emergency, which could take the country deeper into civil conflict.

But short of calling in troops, it looked unlikely that Mr. Yanukovych could restore his battered authority and regain control of the capital.

As the protesters, reinforced by swarms of ordinary residents, erected barricades around their extended protest zone, a woman took to a stage to appeal for help from foreign governments to prevent the president from declaring a state of emergency.

“A state of emergency means the beginning of war,” she said.

“We cannot let that happen.”

In the center of Kiev, however, war had basically broken out, with the police having been authorized to use live ammunition.

Just after dawn, young men in ski masks opened a breach in the police barricade near the stage on Independence Square, ran across a hundred yards of smoldering debris from what had been called a protective ring of fire and confronted riot police officers who were firing at them with shotguns.

Snipers also opened fire, but it was unclear which side they were on.

Sviatoslav Khanenko, a lawmaker and a head of the medical service of the National Resistance Headquarters, said by telephone that about 70 people had been killed and more than 1,000 had been wounded.

Some news reports said 100 people had been killed.

The death tolls could not be corroborated.

But even at the lower casualty numbers reported by Kiev’s municipal health authorities, Thursday was the most lethal day in Ukraine since independence from the Soviet Union more than 22 years ago.

By noon, 11 corpses had been laid out in a makeshift outdoor morgue under a Coca-Cola umbrella at the end of Independence Square.

Other bodies were taken elsewhere.

The demonstrators captured more than 60 police officers, who were marched, dazed and bloodied, toward the center of the square through a crowd of men who heckled and shoved them.

A Ukrainian Orthodox priest accompanied the officers, pleading with their captors not to hurt them.

“People are very angry, but we must not act like Yanukovych does,” said the priest, the Rev. Mekola Hivailo.

Others said later that the officers were taken to a hotel and released.

But the mere act of parading police officers through the streets signaled a new level of defiance and rage by the protesters.

In a sign of trouble for Mr. Yanukovych, the mayor of Kiev, Volodymyr Makeyenko, announced in a video statement that he could no longer remain in the governing party because ordinary people were dying.

He noted bitterly that “no oligarch has died, no politician has died.”

With Mr. Yanukovych’s allies in Parliament still resisting changes to the Constitution demanded by the opposition that would reduce the powers of the president, there were intense talks underway in Kiev in hopes of ending the violence.

The foreign ministers of Germany, Poland and France met with Mr. Yanukovych for more than four hours on Thursday.

“Ahead of us is a night of heavy negotiations,” Marcin Wojciechowski, a spokesman for the Polish foreign minister, Radoslaw Sikorski, wrote on Twitter.

After the initial round of meetings, the Polish prime minister, Donald Tusk, said at a news conference in Warsaw that there were some indications that Mr. Yanukovych would be willing to schedule earlier parliamentary and presidential elections, something he had previously resisted.

The presidential elections are scheduled for March 2015.

Source: The New York Times

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