Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and three main opposition leaders have signed a deal to end a crisis over the country’s political future that has led to nearly 100 deaths.
The pact paving the way for early elections and a shift in political power toward parliament was signed in the Blue Hall of the presidential palace in the presence of three EU envoys on Friday.
Earlier, Yanukovych’s announcement that he was ready to hold early elections and form a new unity government was brief and met with caution by the tens of thousands gathered on central Kiev’s main square for a protest that began exactly three months earlier.
Ukraine’s nationalist opposition leader Oleh Tyahnybok said the protesters had conditionally agreed to the terms.
“It was decided to approve the decision to sign the agreement with the president on the condition that the (current) interior minister is not in the next government and the attorney general is replaced,” he was quoted as saying by Ukraine’s Interfax news agency.
The European Union confirmed that a “temporary” agreement had been reached after marathon talks with Yanukovych and opposition leaders that began on Thursday and stretched into Friday afternoon.
The peace pact met the demands the opposition had laid down at the start of the protests – the balance of political power would shift back to parliament, as it had been before Yanukovych assumed the presidency in 2010 and took the country of 46 million on a course away from the European Union and toward Russia.
It would also create an opposition cabinet with the authority to reverse Yanukovych’s decision in November to ditch a historic deal that would have put Ukraine on the path to eventual membership of the EU, which many Ukrainians see as their protector from centuries of Russian domination.
But the opposition has radicalised since police used live ammunition to mow down dozens with snipers and Kalashnikov rifles.
The chant of “death to the criminal” – a reference to two later-pardoned convictions for petty crime Yanukovych received in the Soviet era – rose over Kiev’s iconic Independence Square overnight on Thursday.
“I think that Yanukovych must leave now, and never come back,” said a middle-aged protester named Lyudmila.
“We do not need any elections. He should not be allowed to run.”
Three EU foreign ministers and an envoy for Russian President Vladimir Putin flew in for emergency talks on Thursday.
“The parties agreed on the initialling of an agreement to resolve the crisis,” the Ukrainian presidency said in a brief statement issued after a night of negotiations.
The foreign ministers of EU powers France and Germany – as well as Ukraine’s culturally-close ally Poland – then went into separate talks with Ukraine’s three top opposition leaders in order to convince them to back the pact.