Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych (r.) and opposition leader Vitali Klitschko (l.) shake hands after signing the agreement in the Presidential Palace in Kiev, Ukraine.
If you don’t take this deal, “you’ll all be dead.”
That was the frank warning Poland’s foreign minister delivered to Ukrainian rebel leaders before they signed a peace deal with the country’s president Friday to end three months of deadly fighting.
“If you don’t support this you will have martial law, the army, you’ll all be dead,” Radoslaw Sikorski warned in footage caught by television cameras as he emerged from talks in Kiev where the agreement was hammered out.
A few hours later, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and the opposition leaders signed the deal to end a crisis that nearly plunged the country into civil war.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych signs the agreement with opposition leaders to end the crisis in the Presidential Palace in Kiev, Ukraine, on Friday.
Out on the barricades in Independence Square, hardcore Ukrainian protesters who fought the most ferocious fights were not happy that the agreement allows Yanukovych to cling to power for now.
“Resign! Resign! Resign!” they cried as the coffin of one of the slain activists was borne by the crowd.
Vitali Klitschko, the ex-world boxing champion who heads the opposition Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform, was booed when he portrayed the pact as “very important.”
LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images
Protesters gather at the Independence square in central Kiev on Friday as Ukraine’s president announced early presidential elections and promised to bring opposition members into the government to try and defuse the ongoing violence.
“By tomorrow we want (Yanukovych) out,” said a fatigue-clad man who grabbed the microphone. “My comrade was shot and our leaders shake the hand of a murderer. It’s a disgrace.”
But the ranks of the demonstrators dwindled somewhat as the day wore on and the details of the deal began to emerge.
In Washington, there was relief that the crisis appeared to be ending.
A protester moves a burning tire at a barricade in Kiev on Friday.
“The United States welcomes the agreement signed today,” the White House said in a statement. “Now, the focus must be on concrete action to implement this agreement, which we will be monitoring closely.”
President Obama telephoned Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss the Ukrainian crisis shortly after the agreement was signed, officials said.
Putin, who has not yet weighed in on the deal, was a strong backer of Yanukovych. And the power struggle in Kiev was seen as a Cold War battle between Russia and the West over who would influence Ukraine.
Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Anti-government protesters man the front line barricades on Friday, a day after violent clashes with police in Independence Square.
White House spokesman Jay Carney, in an apparent attempt to ease tensions between Washington and Moscow, insisted it was not.
“This is not about the United States and Russia or the West and Russia,” Carney said. “This is about Ukraine and the Ukrainian people and their desire for the right to choose their own destiny.”
Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel — after several days of trying — finally spoke to his Ukrainian counterpart to make sure that country’s army stays in its barracks.
An anti-government protester as he mans a barricade in Kiev on Friday, a day after a bloody battle with police that killed more than 100 people.
“Minister Lebedev assured the secretary that the Ukrainian armed forces remain the protectors of the Ukrainian people,” Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said.
The peace deal calls for the formation of a national unity government within 10 days and a presidential election by December. And it likely prevents what many Ukrainians feared — a military takeover of the country.
The newly emboldened Ukrainian parliament then voted to restore the 2004 constitution, which reduces the power of the president and gives them more control, and approved an amnesty for the demonstrators who defied Yanukovych.
Legislators also fired Yanukovych’s widely despised interior minister, Vitali Zakharchenko, who is being blamed for giving the order to shoot at protesters in Kiev.
MAKSYM MARUSENKO/AFP/Getty Images
Ukrainian lawmakers clash during a Parliament session in Kiev Friday. Ukraine’s embattled President Viktor Yanukovych said he was calling an early presidential poll as the country inched towards resolving its bloodiest crisis since independence.
And they voted to free Yanukovych’s political nemesis Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister who has spent more than two years in jail for what supporters say are trumped-up corruption charges.
“Free Yulia! Free Yulia!” jubliant legislators chanted after the vote.
Sikorski helped broker the deal with the foreign ministers from France and Germany after an all-night negotiation session — and after several days of fighting that left more than 100 Ukrainians dead.
Anti-government protesters look out from a barricade in Kiev on Friday as Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich said a deal had been reached to resolve the political crisis.
Obama had warned earlier there would be “consequences” if the violence continued and Vice President Biden spoke with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk shortly before Sikorski began hammering out the deal.
In Moscow, a top Russian lawmaker criticized the pact.
“We realize where and by whom this agreement has been written,” Leonid Slutsky said. “It’s entirely in the interests of the United States and other powers, who want to split Ukraine from Russia.”
Slutsky’s remark was telling — the Ukraine broke away from the old Soviet Union some 14 years ago.
The Ukrainian uprising erupted three months ago after Yanukovych, under pressure from Putin, suddenly refused to sign a long-awaited free trade agreement with the European Union.
Ukrainians, already frustrated by the corruption and increasingly dictatorial Yanukovych regime, accused their president of selling out to Russia and rose up in revolt.
Yanukovych retaliated by siccing his security services — and thugs hired by government to crack heads — on the demonstrators.
With News Wire Services
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