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An anti-government protester throws a stone during clashes with riot police in Kiev's Independence Square, the epicenter of the country's current unrest, Kiev, Ukraine, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014. The deadly clashes in Ukraine’s capital have drawn sharp reactions from Washington, generated talk of possible European Union sanctions and led to a Kremlin statement blaming Europe and the West. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
Ukraine president, protest leaders announce a truce
Crisis » If violence continues, “there will be consequences,”says Obama.
First Published Feb 19 2014 07:12 pm • Last Updated Feb 19 2014 10:01 pm

Kiev, Ukraine • Ukraine’s embattled president and leaders of the protests that have been roiling the country agreed Wednesday on a truce to halt the violence that has killed 26 people and injured more than 425 others. A protest leader was quoted as saying the government pledged not to attack an opposition encampment in central Kiev while further negotiations unfold.

President Viktor Yanukovych met with opposition leaders and the two sides agreed to halt the violence and to hold talks on ending bloodshed, a statement on the presidential website said. The statement did not give any further details.

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Vitali Klitschko, one of the leaders of the protests that have sought to keep Ukraine open to Europe and out of a close political and economic alliance with Russia, was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying that Yanukovych agreed that there would be no attempt to storm the protesters’ encampment on the main square of downtown Kiev.

Flames from burning barricades of tires and refuse leapt into the air at the square for a second night, as protesters demanding Yanukovych’s resignation showed no sign of yielding.

The truce announcement came hours after the president replaced the army chief and the military vowed a national anti-terrorist operation to restore order. Officials have often referred to the protesters who have demanded Yanukovych’s resignation for months as "terrorists."

The recent violence has been the worst in nearly three months of anti-government protests that have paralyzed Kiev. The two sides are locked in a battle over the identity of this nation of 46 million, whose loyalties are divided between Russia and the West. The protests began in late November after Yanukovych turned away from a long-anticipated deal with the European Union in exchange for a $15 billion bailout from Russia.

Political and diplomatic maneuvering has continued, with both Moscow and the West eager to gain influence over this former Soviet republic. Three EU foreign ministers — from Germany, France and Poland — were heading to Kiev on Thursday to speak with both sides before an emergency EU meeting back in Brussels to consider sanctions against those responsible for the recent violence in Ukraine.

President Barack Obama also stepped in to condemn the violence in Kiev, warning Wednesday "there will be consequences" for Ukraine if it continues. The U.S. has raised the prospect of joining with the EU to impose sanctions against Ukraine.

On a visit to Mexico, Obama said the Ukrainian military should not step into a situation that civilians should resolve and added that the U.S. holds Ukraine’s government primarily responsible for dealing with peaceful protesters appropriately.

In Kiev, Ukraine’s top security agency accused protesters Wednesday of seizing hundreds of firearms from its offices and announced a nationwide anti-terrorist operation to restore order.


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Demonstrators, meanwhile, forced their way into the main post office on Kiev’s Independence Square, also known as the Maidan, after a nearby building they had previously occupied was burned down in fierce, fiery clashes late Tuesday with riot police. Thousands of activists armed with fire bombs and rocks had defended the square, a key symbol of the protests.

"The revolution has turned into a war with the authorities," Vasyl Oleksenko, a retired geologist from central Ukraine, said Wednesday. "We must fight this bloody, criminal leadership. We must fight for our country, our Ukraine!"

Before the truce was announced the bad blood was running so high it has fueled fears the nation could be sliding toward a messy breakup. While most people in the country’s western regions resent Yanukovych, he enjoys strong support in the mostly Russian-speaking eastern and southern regions, where many want strong ties with Russia.

Neither side had appeared willing to compromise, with the opposition insisting on Yanukovych’s resignation and an early election and the president apparently prepared to fight until the end.

Opposition lawmaker Oleh Lyashko warned that Yanukovych himself was in danger.

"Yanukovych, you will end like (Moammar) Gadhafi," Lyashko told thousands of angry protesters. "Either you, a parasite, will stop killing people or this fate will await you. Remember this, dictator!"

Before the truce announcement, Yanukovych had blamed the protesters for the violence and said the opposition leaders had "crossed a line when they called people to arms."

"I again call on the leaders of the opposition ... to draw a boundary between themselves and radical forces, which are provoking bloodshed and clashes with the security services," the president said in a statement. "If they don’t want to leave — they should acknowledge that they are supporting radicals."

He called for a day of mourning Thursday for the dead.

In Moscow, the Kremlin said it put the next disbursement of its bailout on hold amid uncertainty over Ukraine’s future and what it described as a "coup attempt."

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters that he and his counterparts from Germany and Poland would meet both sides in Ukraine ahead of the EU meeting on possible sanctions. He said he hoped the two sides "will find a way for dialogue."

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