Ukraine deal not enough, protesters say

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by Olga Rudenko, USA TODAY

KREM.com

Posted on February 21, 2014 at 12:21 PM

Updated Friday, Feb 21 at 1:41 PM

KIEV, Ukraine — A deal Friday between the Ukrainian president and the opposition to hold early elections has calmed violence in the capital, but many protesters say it's not nearly enough.

They say no deal can hold that does not take into account the acts of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who ordered a vicious crackdown on protesters that has left more than 100 people dead.

"A coalition government is good, it's a step in the right direction, and it is what we wanted," said Ivan Shershin, 44, a protester who came to Kiev from the Ivano-Frankivsk region in western Ukraine.

"But there is no way Yanukovych can stay in office till December – he is a murderer now and must be prosecuted as a murderer," he said.

The deal signed by Yanukovych and leaders of the main political parties that oppose his ruling party meets some of the top demands of the protest movement, which though supported by opposition parties is not run by them.

The deal calls for presidential elections by December (rather than next year) and alters the Ukraine Constitution to grant more power to parliament over the president. It also lays out the guidelines for the creation of a coalition government to begin in 10 days.

Ukraine's parliament immediately voted to restore the 2004 constitution that limits presidential authority, retaking some of the powers that Yanukovych had pushed through for himself after being elected in 2010.

"As the president of Ukraine and the guarantor of the Constitution, today I am fulfilling my duty before the people, before Ukraine and before God in the name of saving the nation, in the name of preserving people's lives, in the name of peace and calm of our land," Yanukovych said in a statement on his website.

Ukraine's newly empowered parliament voted Thursday to allow the release of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko after more than two years in prison. Legislators voted 310-54 to decriminalize the count under which she was imprisoned, meaning that she is no longer guilty of a criminal offense.

"Free Yulia! Free Yulia!" legislators chanted after the vote.

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 parliament also voted Friday night to remove the interior minister, who controlled police forces that fired on protesters this week. Vitali Zakharchenko is despised by protesters for labeling them extremists and terrorists and urging police to use gunfire to halt rock-throwing.

Although Yanukovych retains a majority in parliament, he loses the power to nominate the prime minister and to fire the Cabinet. Lawmakers also approved an amnesty for protesters involved in violence.

Three European foreign ministers spent two days and all night trying to negotiate an end to the standoff, which exploded into street protests when Yanukovych decided not to sign a pact years in the making with the European Union in November in favor of a financial handout from Russia.

The White House said it supported the pact. "Now, the focus must be on concrete action to implement this agreement, which we will be monitoring closely," it said.

Leonid Slutsky, a Russian lawmaker who chairs the committee in charge of relations with other ex-Soviet nations, such as Ukraine, said Friday 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.

The European Union voted in Brussels on Thursday to impose sanctions on Ukraine's leaders, denying them travel rights in Europe and freezing their assets in European banks.

Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski was filmed by ITV News telling a protest leader that if the opposition did not sign up to a deal offered by Yanukovych "you'll have the army. You will all be dead," according to the The Telegraph newspaper.

The deal comes after three months of peaceful anti-government street protests that paralyzed Kiev and ended in violent clashes this week during which as many as 100 people and 16 police officers were killed in battles.

In parliament, 140 lawmakers from the president's own Party of Regions voting in favor of repealing changes made to the Constitution by the regime.

Still, a key demand of the protest movement is the resignation of Yanukovych. The Right Sector, an ultra-nationalist association, didn't approve of the deal because it allows Yanukovych to remain president for now.

"The criminal regime didn't yet realize the magnitude of its crimes or the force of the people's anger," Right Sector's leader Dmytro Yarosh said about the deal. "The deal is just an eyewash (distraction). The people's revolution goes on."

On Maidan Square, the center of protest activity, that feeling was pervasive in spite of the overwhelming exhaustion of the past few days.

Volunteers dodged debris and trash to ferry food, bandages and other necessities while others stood braced for more violence. Sporadic chants of "traitors" broke out, referring to the opposition leaders who signed the deal.

The Democratic Alliance, another organization of activists that lost several of its members to clashes, said there is no way his members can accept the deal.

"Any (deal) that leaves Yanukovych in office is treason," said Democratic Alliance's leader Vasyl Gatsko. "The commander of my squad was killed yesterday. I wish Yanukovych could feel what we feel and what the mothers of the murdered men feel."

For hours Friday there had been no official confirmation from the opposition, the European Union or Russia that a deal had been reached. There were also reports of continuing violence on the streets of Kiev as police said they fired shots at protesters in response to being fired upon themselves.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Europe-1 radio Friday that "as long as things are not effectively completed, we must remain very prudent."

"The opposition wants to consult a certain number of its supporters, which is understandable," he said. "We discussed all subjects during these negotiations. It was done in an extremely difficult atmosphere because there were dozens of dead and the country is on the verge of civil war."

A lull in fighting appeared to hold on Friday morning, as several thousand protesters milled around Maidan Square, and volunteers walked freely to the protest camps to donate food and other packages. Looking exhausted, the protesters expressed defiance.

"We are strong because we are together," said Stepan Kubiv. "On Wednesday, the fascists declared a truce. "Yesterday morning, I met a friend here — now he is dead."

"We are one, and we will never break Ukraine apart. Kiev stands."

Contributing: Kim Hjelmgaard in London; Aamer Madhani in Washington; the Associated Press
 

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