Ukraine government, opposition agree to 'truce'

Announcement follows recent escalation in violence that left 26 people dead and hundreds more injured

At least 26 people died in an stark increase in violence in the Ukrainian capital this week.
Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich announced on Wednesday that he had agreed to a "truce" with opposition leaders and a start to negotiations to stabilize the country after months of political turmoil. The announcement came a day after fierce clashes between police and anti-government protesters in the capital Kiev left at least 26 people dead and hundreds injured.

Following talks between Yanukovich and three main opposition leaders on Wednesday, the Ukrainian government affirmed the truce and plans to start negotiations "with the aim of ending bloodshed, and stabilizing the situation in the state in the interests of social peace," said a statement published on Ukraine's presidential website.

Vitaly Klitschko, one of the opposition leaders who seek to keep Ukraine open to Europe and out of a close political and economic alliance with Russia, was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying that Yanukovich agreed that there would be no attempt to storm the protesters' encampment on the main square of downtown Kiev while negotiations unfold.

The development marked an abrupt turnaround from the renewed violence of previous days.

The latest bout of street violence began Tuesday when protesters attacked police lines and set fires outside parliament, accusing Yanukovich of ignoring their demands to enact constitutional reforms that would limit the president's power — a key opposition demand. Parliament, dominated by his supporters, was stalling on taking up a constitutional reform to limit presidential powers.

It was the deadliest violence to rock the capital in nearly three months of anti-government protests. The deteriorating situation in the country began when Yanukovich spurned a popular trade deal with the European Union in favor of accepting a $15-billion Russian bailout.

World leaders on Wednesday condemned the Ukrainian government’s use of violence against protesters and even threatened sanctions should it continue its crackdown.

Speaking at a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Paris, French President Francois Hollande disparaged the situation in Ukraine as filled with "unacceptable, intolerable, inadmissible acts of violence and brutality." 

"Those who have committed the acts and who are committed to commit further acts must know they will be sanctioned," Hollande said. 

Sanctions typically include a ban on government officials from traveling to the European Union and freezing their assets there.

"Only political dialogue can bring progress (in Ukraine)," Merkel said. "The EU will do what it can to contribute." 

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the secretary-general of NATO, said his organization's ties with Ukraine would be threatened if a crackdown against the opposition continued.

President Barack Obama also condemned the violence in Kiev, warning "there will be consequences" for Ukraine. 

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department moved to restrict visas to 20 senior members of the Ukrainian government. In a briefing with reporters, a senior official said the targets were individuals "considered responsible for ordering or otherwise directing human rights abuses." The official also reacted to news of the truce with caution, calling it a "little glimmer of hope."

Secretary of State John Kerry earlier Wednesday called on Yanukovich "to bring people together," "find the measure of compromise" and "put the broad interests of the people of Ukraine out front."

Al Jazeera and wire services

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