KIEV, Ukraine – Under heavy pressure from the West following a deadly day of clashes and sniper fire in the capital, President Viktor Yanukovych and opposition leaders struck a deal Friday aimed at bringing Ukraine’s three-month political crisis to an end. But radical protesters and some pro-Russian factions rejected it, leaving lingering doubts over whether peace could be restored.
On a day of electrifying developments, the Ukrainian parliament also opened a path for Yulia Tymoshenko – Yanukovych’s political nemesis – to be let out of prison.
In spite of what looked like a significant government retreat, protesters booed opposition figures who took to a stage Friday evening to present the deal, which cuts Yanukovych’s powers and calls for early elections but falls short of demands for his immediate resignation.
Addressing the crowd in Kiev’s Independence Square, opposition leader Vitali Klitschko tried to persuade them that Yanukovych had likely given all he was willing to give.
“He’s not going to resign. This isn’t realistic. We have to think about realistic steps,” Klitschko said.
The agreement signed Friday calls for presidential elections to be moved up from March 2015 to no later than December, but many protesters said that is far too late. And it does not address the issue that set off the protests in November: Yanukovych’s abandonment of closer ties with the European Union in favor of a bailout deal with longtime ruler Russia.
The standoff between the government and protesters escalated this week, as demonstrators clashed with police and snipers opened fire in the worst violence the country has seen since the breakup of the Soviet Union a quarter-century ago. The Health Ministry put the death toll at 77 and some opposition figures said it’s even higher.
The U.S., Russia and the 28-nation EU are deeply concerned about the future of Ukraine, a divided nation of 46 million. The country’s western regions want to be closer to the EU and have rejected Yanukovych’s authority in many cities, while eastern Ukraine favors closer ties with Russia.
Hours after the deal was signed, Ukraine’s parliament voted to restore the 2004 constitution that limits presidential authority, taking back some of the powers that Yanukovych had pushed through for himself after being elected in 2010.
Parliament then voted to fire the interior minister, Vitali Zakharchenko, who is widely despised and blamed for ordering police violence, including the snipers who killed scores of protesters Thursday in Kiev, the capital that has been nearly paralyzed by the protests.
With Yanukovych’s supporters quitting his party one after another Friday, legislators also approved an amnesty for protesters involved in violence.
Under the agreement, Ukrainian authorities also will name a new unity government that includes top opposition figures within 10 days.
The deal was a result of two days and all-night of shuttle diplomacy by top diplomats from Germany, France and Poland, who talked with the president and the opposition.
In Washington, White House press secretary Jay Carney said the deal is consistent with what the Obama administration was advocating, and that the U.S. will closely monitor whether it is fulfilled, holding out the threat of more sanctions if it’s not.
But neither side won all the points it sought, and some vague conditions could ignite strong disputes down the road.
The deal calls for protesters to hand over all their weapons, withdraw from buildings they have occupied and take down the camps they have erected around the country. It is far from clear that the thousands of protesters camped out in Kiev’s Independence Square – known as the Maidan – will pack up and go home.
“The Maidan will stand up until Yanukovych leaves,” declared one protester, 29-year-old Anataly Shevchuk.
The deal has other detractors, too.
Leonid Slutsky, a Russian lawmaker who chairs the committee in charge of relations with other ex-Soviet nations, told reporters that the agreement serves the interests of the West.
“We realize where and by whom this agreement has been written. It’s entirely in the interests of the United States and other powers, who want to split Ukraine from Russia,” he said.
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