Ukraine President and Opponents Sign Deal in Bid to End Violence

Early elections and other concessions are part of an internationally-brokered deal to end battles between police and protesters in Kiev

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Louisa Gouliamaki / AFP / Getty Images

Protesters clash with police after gaining new positions near the Independence square in Kiev, Ukraine on February 20, 2014.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and opposition leaders signed a deal Friday that will bring early elections and a new coalition government, an internationally-brokered agreement intended to end the fighting between police and protesters that has left about 75 dead and scores wounded in Kiev this week.

Yanukovych’s office announced that the centreal government and the opposition reached the deal after negotiations with European Union diplomats. The deal includes early elections and a promise by the president to form a coalition government. Yanukovych said in a statement on his website that he would begin the process for early elections, but he did not give a date, the Associated Press reports. He also promised constitutional reforms that would limit the power of the presidency, which has been a key demand for Kiev’s protesters. Ukraine’s parliament voted Friday in favor of amnesty for people who were detained during the protests, Reuters reports, and the parliament also voted to release the prominent jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.

Foreign ministers from Germany, France and Poland sought a deal after two days of clashes between protesters and police around Kiev’s Independence Square left about 75 dead. Some of the fiercest fighting in the past few days left the bodies of twenty people scattered on the ground not far from where Yanukovych was meeting with the E.U. diplomats, Reuters reports.

The United States, which had been considering sanctions of its own, welcomes the easing of tensions.

“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,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement. “Now, the focus must be on concrete action to implement this agreement, which we will be monitoring closely.”

Ukraine has been at the center of a geopolitical struggle between Russia and the E.U. for the former Soviet republic’s political and economic ties. Protests began late last year after Yanukovych rejected a trade pact with the E.U. in favor of closer ties to Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin sees Ukraine as the key to a potential Eurasian union with Moscow at the center, but many in the country want closer ties with Europe.

While the international deal is a potential breakthrough that could end the violence in Kiev, it may not be enough to satisfy some protesters, and there were reports of shots still ringing out in Kiev early on Friday. “This is just another piece of paper,” Anton Solovyov, a 28-year-old IT worker protesting in Independence Square, told Reuters. “We will not leave the barricades until Yanukovich steps down. That’s all people want.”