Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych yesterday announced plans for early elections aimed at ending violence that has left dozens dead, a major element of an EU-mediated peace deal that Poland said protesters occupying a Kiev square had accepted.
Russian-backed Yanukovych — under pressure to quit from the mass demonstrations in the Ukrainian capital — offered a series of concessions to his pro-European opponents, including a national unity government and constitutional change to reduce his powers, as well as the presidential election.
He made the announcement in a statement on the presidential Web site 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 elections.”
Yanukovych said that Ukraine, which emerged from the wreckage of the Soviet Union in 1991, would revert to a previous constitution under which parliament had greater control over the make-up of the government, including the prime minister.
“I am also starting the process of a return to the 2004 constitution with a rebalancing of powers towards a parliamentary republic,” he said. “I call for the start of procedures for forming a government of national unity.”
He also set no date for the presidential election, which had been due in March next year.
One of the opposition leaders, world boxing champion-turned-politician Vitaly Klitschko, told German newspaper Bild yesterday that the opposition would sign the EU-brokered deal, but further talks were needed with the protesters on Independence Square, which is also known as the Maidan.
However, a Polish foreign ministry spokesman said that a Maidan protesters’ council had voted in favor of the deal.
The civic council “has voted in favor of the three opposition leaders signing the agreement with President Yanukovych concerning resolving the conflict,” the ministry’s spokesman, Marcin Wojciechowski, said on Twitter.
Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted Oleh Tyahnibok, a far-right leader, as saying the deal should stand only if there were guarantees that the present interior minister and prosecutor-general were not included in any interim government.
The EU mediators had earlier said the opposition was seeking last-minute changes, but they still expected a deal to be signed yesterday. There were fist fights in parliament as the political tension mounted.
The German and Polish foreign ministers were in Kiev to promote the 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.