Ukraine presidency: deal ending crisis to be inked

Associated Press
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Deadly Day of Violence in Kiev

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine's presidency said Friday that it has negotiated a deal intended to end battles between police and protesters that have killed scores and injured hundreds, but European mediators involved in the talks wouldn't confirm a breakthrough.

Yanukovych's office said that the government and the opposition have agreed to sign the deal at noon local time (1000 GMT). It gave no details.

Yanukovych and the opposition are locked in a battle over the identity of Ukraine, a nation of 46 million that has divided loyalties between Russia and the West. Several regions in the west of the country are in open revolt against the central government, while many in eastern Ukraine back the president and favor strong ties with Russia, their former Soviet ruler.

The demonstrators, who have camped for three months on Kiev's Independence Square, known as the Maidan, are demanding Yanukovych's resignation and early elections. The president, who triggered the protests by aborting a pact with the European Union in favor of close ties with Russia, has made some concessions, but has refused to step down.

The report of a deal followed the worst violence yet in the confrontation between the government and protesters.

Protesters advanced on police lines in the heart of the Ukrainian capital on Thursday, prompting government snipers to shoot back and kill scores of people in the country's deadliest day since the breakup of the Soviet Union a quarter-century ago.

Dr. Oleh Musiy, the medical coordinator for the protesters, said at least 70 protesters were killed Thursday and over 500 were wounded. The Interior Ministry said three policemen were killed and 28 suffered gunshot wounds.

A statement on the website of the Health Ministry said 77 people had been killed between Tuesday morning, when the violence began, and Friday morning. The statement said 577 people had been wounded and 369 hospitalized.

There was no way to immediately verify any of the death tolls.

European diplomats, who were involved in the talks between Yanukovych and the opposition that went on for hours Thursday and continued into the night, urged caution and said they could not confirm an accord had been reached.

A German official in Kiev said the talks were continuing. A French official said it may be too early to call it an accord. Both spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to be publicly named according to government policy.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who was involved in the talks along with his German and Polish counterparts, said on Europe-1 radio Friday that "as long as things are not effectively completed, we must remain very prudent."

"The opposition wants to consult a certain number of its supporters, which is understandable," he said. "We discussed all subjects during these negotiations. It was done in an extremely difficult atmosphere, because there were dozens of dead and the country is on the verge of civil war."

A lull in fighting appeared to hold on Friday morning, as several thousand protesters milled around the Maidan, and volunteers walked freely to the protest camps to donate food and other packages.

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." Late on Thursday, the Ukrainian parliament passed a measure that would prohibit an "anti-terrorist operation" threatened by Yanukovych to restore order, and called for all Interior Ministry troops to return to their bases.

It was unclear what effect the vote would have.

Protesters across the country are also upset over corruption in Ukraine, the lack of democratic rights and the country's ailing economy, which just barely avoided bankruptcy with the first disbursement of a $15 billion bailout promised by Russia.

In Brussels, the 28-nation European Union decided in an emergency meeting Thursday to impose sanctions against those behind the violence in Ukraine, including a travel ban and an asset freeze against some government officials.

The White House said U.S. Vice President Joe Biden spoke by telephone with Yanukovych on Thursday afternoon and made clear that the U.S. is prepared to sanction those officials responsible for the violence.

Defiant protesters seemed determined to continue their push for Yanukovych's resignation and early presidential and parliamentary elections.

"The price of freedom is too high. But Ukrainians are paying it," Viktor Danilyuk, a 30-year-old protester, said Thursday. "We have no choice. The government isn't hearing us."

Thursday was the deadliest day yet at the sprawling protest camp in Kiev. Snipers were seen shooting at protesters, and video footage showed at least one sniper wearing a Ukraine riot police uniform.

Video footage on Ukrainian television showed shocking scenes Thursday of protesters being cut down by gunfire, lying on the pavement as comrades rushed to their aid.

Protesters were also seen leading policemen, their hands held high, around the sprawling protest camp in central Kiev. The Interior Ministry said 67 police were captured in all. An opposition lawmaker said they were being held in Kiev's occupied city hall.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke with Russia's President Vladimir Putin and President Barack Obama about the crisis Thursday evening. All three leaders agreed that a political solution needs to be found as soon as possible to prevent further bloodshed.

Saying the U.S. was outraged by the violence, Obama urged Yanukovych in a statement to withdraw his forces from downtown Kiev immediately. He also said Ukraine should respect the right of protest and that protesters must be peaceful.

The Kremlin issued a statement with Putin blaming radical protesters and voicing "extreme concern about the escalation of armed confrontation in Ukraine."

Russia appeared increasingly frustrated with Yanukovych's inability to find a way out of the crisis.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Russia will "try to do our best" to fulfill its financial obligations to Ukraine, but indicated Moscow would hold back on further bailout installments until the crisis is resolved.

"We need partners that are in good shape and a Ukrainian government that is legitimate and effective," he said.

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David Rising in Berlin contributed to this report.

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