Russian-backed Yanukovich, under pressure to quit from mass
demonstrations in central Kiev, promised a national unity government
and constitutional change to reduce his powers, as well as the
He made the announcement in a statement on the presidential website
without waiting for a signed agreement with opposition leaders after
at least 77 people were killed in the worst violence since Ukraine
became independent 22 years ago.
"There are no steps that we should not take to restore peace in
Ukraine," he said. "I announce that I am initiating early
EU mediators trying to broker a compromise said the opposition was
seeking last minute changes, but they still expected a deal to be
signed on Friday. There were fist fights in parliament as the
political tension mounted.
The sprawling nation of 46 million with a shattered economy and
endemic corruption is at the center of a geopolitical tug-of-war
between Russia and the European Union.
The German and Polish foreign ministers were in Kiev to promote a
political compromise to end the bloodshed amid a stand-off between
riot police and anti-government protesters who have occupied a
central square for nearly three months.
Poland's Radoslaw Sikorski tweeted that he and Germany's
Frank-Walter Steinmeier were going to meet representatives of the
street protesters to discuss the draft agreement.
Ukraine was at a "delicate moment", Sikorski said on his Twitter
account, adding in an apparent message to opposition leaders: "All
sides need to remember that compromise means getting less than 100
A table was set up for a signing ceremony in the presidency building
with nameplates for three opposition leaders.
Whether grassroots activists who want Yanukovich out now will accept
such a gradual transition was uncertain.
"This is just another piece of paper. We will not leave the
barricades until Yanukovich steps down. That's all people want,"
said Anton Solovyov, 28, an IT worker protesting in the central
Earlier, police said in a statement that anti-government militants
fired on security forces near the square, scene of a three-month-old
protest vigil. However, there was no confirmation of such an
incident and no report of casualties.
The square, known as Maidan or "Euro-Maidan", appeared peaceful,
with thousands of demonstrators chanting anti-government slogans
interspersed with patriotic singing.
SCUFFLES IN PARLIAMENT
Armed police briefly entered the parliament building while lawmakers
were holding an emergency session but they were quickly ejected,
opposition leader Arseny Yatsenyuk said.
Ukraine faces the risk of civil war or even a break-up, and rage has
spread even into the parliamentary chamber. Members exchanged
punches when speaker Volodymyr Rybak tried to adjourn proceedings.
Opposition deputies were angered because it would mean delaying a
possible vote on a resolution pressing for constitutional changes to
restrict the president's powers. The speaker left the chamber and
If signed and implemented, the deal would be a setback for Russian
President Vladimir Putin, who has made tying Ukraine into a
Moscow-led Eurasian Union a cornerstone of his efforts to reunite as
much as possible of the former Soviet Union.
[to top of second column]
Putin appointed his own envoy to the talks at Yanukovich's request
on Thursday but it was not clear what role, if any, Russian
officials had in the negotiations.
Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk cautioned that there was only a
tentative accord so far. "The agreement has not yet been reached.
What's been settled is the agreement's draft," Tusk told reporters
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who was involved in the
mediation effort earlier in the night, said the opposition needed to
"The opposition wants to consult with some of its members, which is
entirely understandable," he told Europe 1 radio. "In this sort of
situation, as long as things haven't really been wrapped up, it's
important to remain very cautious."
YANUKOVICH SUPPORT EBBS
After 48 hours in which the fate of Ukraine was fought out in the
square, Yanukovich was rapidly losing support.
The deputy chief of the armed forces resigned and opposition
deputies in parliament voted to overturn severe anti-terrorist laws
enacted by Yanukovich's government this month and ordered security
forces back to barracks.
In another sign of the severity of the crisis, ratings agency
Standard & Poor's cut Ukraine's credit rating for the second time in
three weeks on Friday, citing the increased risk of default.
S&P said latest developments in the crisis made it less likely that
Ukraine would receive desperately needed Russian aid. Ukraine
cancelled a planned issue of 5-year Eurobonds worth $2 billion, it
told the Irish Stock Exchange where the debt would have been listed.
Kiev had hoped Russia would buy the bonds to help it stave off
Russia's economy minister said Moscow was still undecided on the
next $2 billion installment and was awaiting clarity on the
government in Ukraine.
The health ministry said 77 people had been killed since Tuesday
afternoon, which meant at least 47 died in Thursday's clashes. That
was by far the worst violence since Ukraine's independence.
On Thursday, EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels imposed
targeted sanctions on Ukraine and threatened more if the authorities
failed to restore calm.
In further diplomatic efforts, U.S. President Barack Obama spoke to
German Chancellor Angela Merkel who in turn discussed Ukraine with
Putin. Moscow has strongly opposed what it sees as Western
interference in Moscow's sphere of influence in Ukraine.
(Additional reporting by Richard Balmforth, Alessandra Prentice,
Vasily Fedosenko and Pavel Polityuk in Kiev, John Irish in Paris and
Francesco Guarascio and Adrian Croft in Brussels; writing by Paul
Taylor; editing by David Stamp)
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.