Ukraine gov't backs down to protesters' demands

The deal reached on Friday by President Yanukovych the opposition sets out plans to hold early presidential elections, form a national unity government and revert to the 2004 constitution.

Ukraine gov't backs down to protesters' demands

World Bulletin / News Desk

Friday saw historic developments in the violence-racked Ukraine as the country's political actors shook hands during emergency talks with European Union diplomats in a move to end months old political crisis and the ongoing bloodshed in squares of capital Kiev.

In the fear-shadow of the late Thursday agreement of EU foreign ministers to impose sanctions on Kiev, the Ukrainian government yielded to sit around the same table with opposition leaders and signed an agreement to end the violent political crisis in the country after marathon talks with EU officials.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and three opposition leaders signed the deal, which is expected to pave the way for early elections and a change in political power.

Before the agreement was signed, Yanukovych announced snap presidential elections and also said that the 2004 constitution, which limits some of his presidential powers so as to balance the authorities of the president, government and the parliament, would be reinstated.

He also said some steps should be taken to prevent more bloodshed and provide stability in the country, according to a statement on his official website.

The crisis-ending agreement is also expected to help end EU sanctions against Ukraine such as freezing the assets of those responsible for the violence and a visa travel ban, which were agreed on during Thursday's extraordinary meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels.

The agreement calls for the following:

- The reinstatement of the 2004 constitution within 48 hours of the signing of the agreement; formation of a national unity government 10 days later.

- A constitutional referendum in September 2014.

- Presidential elections for no later than December 2014.

- The creation of new electoral laws, electoral commission in accordance with OSCE standards.

- An investigation into the outbreak of violence on February 20-21.

- Barring the government from imposing a state of emergency; both parties to refrain from resorting to violence;

- The handing over of all illegal, lethal weapons to the interior ministry; law enforcement officials to be used to guard public buildings

As part of Friday's crisis-ending moves, Ukrainian parliament discussed and passed a series of bills.

Legislators at the Verkhovna Rada voted to sack Interior Minister Vitaly Zakharchenko who was accused of ordering a violent crackdown on anti-government protesters in Kiev, and of the protester killings by sniper shots.

Earlier on Friday, the Council of Maidan - an umbrella group of Kiev protesters - announced during a meeting with the opposition leaders that it would support the agreement between President Viktor Yanukovych and opposition, provided the new government does not include current Interior Minister Vitaly Zakharchenko and Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka.

The Ukrainian lawmakers approved the amnesty for all those detained or who might face possible prosecution in the current unrest.

They heavily voted in favor of the law - 372 "yes" votes out of 395 - proposing all the charges against anti-government protesters be dropped.

In another, maybe the most important, voting on Friday, Ukraine's parliament passed the bill to allow for the release of the country's former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko from prison who has been serving in the jail for more than two years.

Ukrainian lawmakers from a cross-section of different parties voted 310-54 to approve the bill including amendments so as to decriminalize the article in the criminal procedural code under which the political rival of Yanukovych was convicted.

Ukrainian opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who has taken over as head of Tymoshenko's opposition Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party after she was jailed, urged the president to immediately sign and approve the bill which will pave the way for the release of Tymoshenko from prison.

Tymoshenko, who has been in prison since August 2011, was convicted and sentenced to seven years imprisonment for abusing her powers as prime minister by ordering Ukrainian Naftogaz to sign a gas deal with Russia in 2009.

She also lost the 2010 presidential race to Yanukovych.

The U.S. and the EU have sharply criticized her conviction, saying it was politically motivated.

In another Friday vote at Verkhovna Rada, lawmakers passed a law to reinstate the constitution of 2004, a key demand of the anti-government movement, which will remove some powers from the presidential office, but enhances the powers of the parliament.

A total of 386 MPs casted "yes" votes for the relevant law and document was passed under simplified procedure without any decision of the relevant committee and was passed in the first and the second reading in one voting.

West welcomes Ukraine agreement

The White House welcomed the signing of the historic accord between the Ukrainian government and opposition leaders Friday.

"We support the efforts of all those who negotiated this agreement, commend the courageous opposition leaders who recognized the need for compromise, and offer the support of the United States in its implementation," said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney in a statement released to the press.

Meanwhile, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen also appreciated the agreement reached between the government and the opposition in Ukraine.

"This agreement should bring an end to the terrible bloodshed and suffering and pave the way for democratic dialogue and reforms," he said in a statement on Friday.

Rasmussen also urged all parties in Ukraine to implement it in full, refrain from further violence, and work for the future of the country, saying "a sovereign, independent and stable Ukraine, firmly committed to democracy and the rule of law, is key to Euro-Atlantic security."

NATO chief reiterated that the organization remains committed to supporting the reform process in Ukraine, and praised the mediation of the foreign Ministers of France, Germany and Poland.

European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said he welcomed the agreement, describing it as a necessary compromise for a democratic, peaceful way out of the crisis.

"The agreement was facilitated by the important work of the foreign ministers of France, Germany, Poland and the special representative of the President of the Russian Federation and based on the persistent efforts of the last two months by High Representative Ashton and Commissioner Fule," he added.

French President Francois Hollande also welcomed the agreement and called for a "full and timely implementation of the deal."

"After the unacceptable, intolerable and unjustifiable violence that has plunged Ukraine into mourning in recent days, France calls for the full and timely implementation of the deal that has just been signed," he said.

Three European foreign ministers - France's Laurent Fabius, Germany's Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Poland's Radoslaw Sikorski - brokered the peace deal and praised Yanukovych and the opposition for their "courage" in agreeing to end the standoff.

Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, on his side, also warned of the difficulties lying ahead, saying, "This might have been the last chance to find an exit and end the violence."

"Not all of the problems are solved," Steinmeier cautioned, but added that the agreement opened the way for a political solution to the crisis.

"There is reason to look forward with confidence," he said.

Mass anti-government protests broke out in November 2013 after President Viktor Yanukovych rejected to sign a trade pact with the European Union amid pressure from Moscow.

Following several days of relative calm, deadly clashes flared up on Thursday when police stormed the protesters' stronghold in Independence Square using tear gas, rubber bullets and smoke grenades that left more than 70 people dead, according to a statement from Ukraine's Health Ministry.

Last Mod: 22 Şubat 2014, 11:14
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