Anti-government protesters pose for a picture in Kiev on Friday. (Reuters)
Kiev, Feb. 21 (Reuters): Ukraine’s Opposition leaders signed an EU-mediated peace deal with President Viktor Yanukovich today, aiming to resolve a political crisis in which dozens have been killed and opening the way for an early presidential election this year.
Under pressure to quit from mass demonstrations in Kiev, Russian-backed Yanukovich made a series of concessions to his pro-European opponents, including a national unity government and constitutional change to reduce his powers, as well as bringing forward the poll.
“There are no steps that we should not take to restore peace in Ukraine,” the President said in announcing his concessions before the deal was signed. “I announce that I am initiating early elections.”
He said Ukraine would revert to a previous constitution under which parliament had greater control over the make-up of the government, including the Prime Minister.
German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, one of the EU mediators, said the deal provided for a presidential election this year, although no date had been set. The vote had been due in March 2015.
A correspondent at the signing in the presidential headquarters said Yanukovich, 63, a towering former Soviet regional transport official with two convictions for assault, did not smile during a ceremony lasting several minutes.
Opposition leader Vitaly Klitschko, a retired world boxing champion, switched his nameplate to avoid sitting next to the President. The European mediators signed as witnesses but a Russian envoy present did not sign the document.
Within an hour of the signing, the Ukrainian parliament voted to revert to a 2004 constitution that strips the head of state of some of his prerogatives.
Another of the EU facilitators, Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski, described the agreement as a “good compromise for Ukraine”. In a post on Twitter, he said it “gives peace a chance. Opens the way for reform and to Europe”.
With Ukraine caught in a geopolitical tug-of-war between Russia and the West, at least 77 people have been killed this week in the worst violence since the independent country emerged from the wreckage of the Soviet Union in 1991.
While EU leaders applauded what European Council president Herman Van Rompuy called a “necessary compromise”, there was a thunderous silence from the Kremlin, where President Vladimir Putin’s spokesperson declined comment.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said implementing the accord would be crucial and would be “very challenging”.