Ukraine announces deal to end crisis; shots fired

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Friday, February 21, 2014

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's presidency said Friday that it has negotiated an international deal intended to end battles between police and protesters that have killed scores and injured hundreds. It was unclear whether the deal would appease protesters, and shots rang out Friday morning in central Kiev.

President Viktor Yanukovych's office said that the government and the opposition have agreed to initial the deal, reached after all-night negotiations with EU diplomats, at noon local time (1000 GMT).

European officials cautioned that it's too early to declare a breakthrough in a standoff that has plunged this country into the deadliest violence it has seen since winning independence from the Soviet Union.

The conflict is 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 preliminary deal struck overnight would see Ukraine's president he would lose some of his powers, and a caretaker government created in 48 hours that would include representatives of the opposition, Slovakia's Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak said.

"Of course, the participants of the talks, my colleagues, warned it is still premature to say the crisis is over."

The head of Yanukovich's party in parliament, Oleksander Yefremov, said the deal includes early presidential elections in December, and a constitutional vote in September, according to the Interfax news agency.

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.

Shots were fired near the square Friday morning, though it was unclear where they were coming from or whom they are targeting. The Interior Ministry accuses the opposition of breaking a truce and firing at law enforcement officers.

In a sign of the high tensions, armed law enforcement officers tried to enter parliament Friday morning during a debate over measures to end the crisis. Shouting lawmakers pushed them out.

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. (AP)

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