Ukraine president, opposition agree to early elections, new government

Opposition signs President Viktor Yanukovich’s deal but says more talks needed to end protests

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Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich has signed a deal with the country’s opposition to hold presidential elections early, form a national unity government and make constitutional changes reducing his powers, according to a copy of the agreement obtained by Al Jazeera.

Constitutional reform will begin immediately with an end goal of finalizing the new constitution by September, but for the time being Ukraine will restore its 2004 constitution. Presidential elections will be held as soon as the new constitution is adopted, no later than December 2014.

In a related move on Friday, Ukraine's parliament voted to allow the release of imprisoned opposition figure and former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who was jailed in 2011 on controversial abuse of power charges.

Yanukovich announced Friday's agreement after all-night talks with the opposition and three European Union ministers, aimed at resolving a crisis in which at least 77 people have been killed in gun battles between protesters and police that began Tuesday.

"As the president of Ukraine and the guarantor of the constitution, today I am fulfilling my duty before the people, before Ukraine and before God in the name of saving the nation, in the name of preserving people's lives, in the name of peace and calm of our land," the president said in a statement on his website.

After several hours of silence from the opposition, leader Vitali Klitschko confirmed to the German newspaper Bild that his side would sign the deal but said further talks would be needed to quell protests.

Klitschko, leader of the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform (UDAR), Oleh Tyahnibok, head of the rightist Svoboda party, and Arseniy Yatsenyuk of the Fatherland party, signed the agreement on behalf of the opposition, the document says.

The agreement further dictates that all acts of violence over the past few months will be investigated and that all illegal weapons must be surrendered to the Ministry of Interior. “Both parties will undertake serious efforts for the normalization of life,” it added.

It is unclear how much sway the opposition’s three most visible political leaders will have in convincing protesters to return to their daily lives.

European leaders who helped broker the deal praised the significant step forward for Ukraine.

“I welcome the agreement reached between the government and the opposition in Ukraine,” said European Council president Herman Van Rompuy, who added that the agreement was made possible, in part, by diplomats from France, Germany, Poland and Russia. “It is now the responsibility of all parties to be courageous and turn words into deeds for the sake of Ukraine's future.”

Earlier on Friday, fighting broke out among deputies in parliament when the speaker declared a pause, delaying a debate on a possible resolution calling for Yanukovich's powers to be reduced.

Several deputies exchanged blows as the chamber descended into chaos for several minutes. The speaker, Yanukovich ally Volodymyr Rybak, then left the chamber, but some of the deputies continued the debate.

On the streets, a shaky peace reigned in the protest camps in downtown Kiev after the days of fighting, which left at least 577 injured in addition to those killed. On Friday morning several thousand protesters milled around Independence Square, known as the Maidan, with no visible police forces remaining on the square. Volunteers walked freely to the protest camps to donate food and other aid.

Support for the president appeared to be weakening, as reports said the army's deputy chief of staff, Yury Dumansky, was resigning in "disagreement with the politics of pulling the armed forces into an internal civil conflict."

Yanukovich was expected to "make concessions in order to restore peace," Interfax Ukraine news agency quoted his spokeswoman Anna German as saying.

Late on Thursday, the Ukrainian parliament passed a measure prohibiting an “anti-terrorist operation” threatened by Yanukovich to restore order and calling for all Interior Ministry troops to return to their bases.

But it was unclear how binding the move would be, as the mechanism for carrying it out would have to be developed by the president's office and the Interior Ministry.

"We haven't achieved anything yet — neither Europe nor freedom nor new leadership. We will stop our fight only after Yanukovich resigns. He has blood on his hands," protester Stepan Rodich told The Associated Press from Maidan.

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