KIEV (AFP) — Ukraine’s president and opposition have agreed to initial a deal to resolve their bloody standoff, the presidency announced on Friday after the deadliest day in a three-month crisis left more than 60 people dead.
“The parties agreed on the initialing of an agreement to resolve the crisis,” the presidency said in a statement, adding that the sides were expected to sign the agreement at 10:00 GMT.
No details were released on the deal, which was reached after all-night talks between President Viktor Yanukovych, the opposition, EU foreign ministers and a Russian envoy, the statement said.
The crisis in Ukraine flared in November 2013 when Yanukovych declined to sign an EU integration deal in favor of closer ties with historical master Russia, and has evolved into a Cold War-style standoff between Moscow and the West over the future of the strategic nation sandwiched between them.
Negotiations mediated by the German and Polish foreign ministers to broker an agreement between the embattled Yanukovych and the opposition — described as “very difficult” by a German source — broke up early Friday after some nine hours.
Thursday’s bloodbath in Kiev came as the European Union agreed to impose sanctions on Ukrainians with “blood on their hands,” though it left the door open to a political deal by naming no names.
The United States threatened to follow suit.
Yanukovych late Thursday appeared ready to concede to one of the protesters’ main demands by suggesting to visiting EU dignitaries that he may be ready to hold early elections.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, meanwhile, spoke to presidents Barack Obama of the United States and Vladimir Putin of Russia — who have bickered openly over the crisis, which has pitted the ex-Soviet country’s future between Russia and the West — by telephone.
All three called for a halt to the bloodshed that has escalated since Tuesday.
Opposition medics said more than 60 protesters had been shot dead by police on Thursday alone. Kiev authorities, for their part, put the death toll from three days of violence at 75.
‘Shot in head or heart’
Bullet-riddled bodies were scattered on Thursday amid smoldering debris after masked protesters hurling Molotov cocktails forced gun-toting police from the capital’s Independence Square — the epicenter of the increasingly bloody revolt against Yanukovych’s pro-Russian rule.
Both sides accused each other of using snipers in a major escalation to a standoff that was sparked by Yanukovych’s rejection in November of an EU pact in favor of closer ties with Moscow.
But the White House said bluntly that it was “outraged by the images of Ukrainian security forces firing automatic weapons on their own people.”
Volunteer medics, who made a makeshift morgue out of a popular hotel overlooking the square, also accused police of killing demonstrators with live rounds.
“They were shot in the head or in the heart by live bullets, not by rubber ones,” said first-aid worker Natalia, who did not give a last name.
Ukraine’s interior ministry said only that it reserved the right to use live munitions “in self-defense.”
The ministry also accused “extremists” of seizing 67 of its troops at gunpoint and holding them hostage in one of the buildings near the war-scarred square.
Events on the ground gave apparent impetus to political discussion, with some hope that Ukraine’s leaders were about to make concessions on the key issue of early elections.
“Among other things it was agreed with Yanukovych that there was a willingness to hold early elections this year – both presidential and parliamentary,” Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk told reporters after a meeting with the Ukrainian leader in Kiev that included Warsaw’s top diplomat and the foreign ministers of Germany and France.
The shocking scale of bloodshed in a strategic nation of 46 million sandwiched between Russia and the European Union prompted EU officials to slap travel bans against Ukrainians responsible for ordering the use of force.
Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino said an agreement was also reached at an emergency EU meeting in Brussels to impose asset freezes on those with “blood on their hands.”
The measures mark a U-turn for Brussels diplomats, who until Monday had resisted Ukrainian opposition demands for sanctions.
Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday warned Yanukovych that the United States was ready to impose sanctions on officials guilty of ordering troops to fire on protesters.
Washington has already put 20 top Ukrainian officials on a visa blacklist and threatened further sanctions, which could include asset freezes.
Ukraine’s former master Russia blasted the sanctions as “bullying.”
Ukraine’s crisis has evolved into a broader anti-government movement that initially opposed Yanukovych’s spurning of an historic EU trade deal in favor of a $15-billion bailout from Kiev’s old masters in the Kremlin.
The unrest has also swept through the pro-Western west of the country, and parts of its more Russified east — exposing the deep historical fault lines between the two.