Deal signed to end Ukraine crisis; move to free Tymoshenko

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Kiev
Kiev, Feb 21: Ukraine's embattled leader signed a deal today with the opposition in a bid to end the ex-Soviet country's worst crisis since independence after three days of carnage left nearly 100 protesters dead.

But President Viktor Yanukovych's dramatic decision to hold early elections and form a new unity government while granting amnesty for those involved in the violence was met with scepticism or even hostility by nearly 40,000 protesters who gathered on central Kiev's main square -- many of them frustrated the leader was not stepping down.

"Elections in December are not enough -- he has to leave now," said one demonstrator, 34-year-old Oleh Bukoyenko. Ukraine's parliament adopted a flurry of opposition-backed laws within hours of the deal's signing.

They need the president's backing before entering into force. One of the unexpected key votes was to amend a law that could see opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko freed from prison where she has been since just after the president took power in 2010. The chamber also approved a call on the president to dismiss acting Interior Minister Vitaliy Zakharchenko -- a hate figure in the opposition who is blamed for ordering the police to open fire on unarmed protesters.

The new unity government to be formed would have the authority to reverse the inflammatory decision Yanukovych made in November to ditch a historic deal promising a path to EU membership in favour of closer ties to former master Russia.

But many protesters told AFP that the deal represented too little and did little to repair days of vicious bloodletting in which police used snipers and armoured vehicles against demonstrators who fought back with bats while wearing makeshift protection.

"These steps were what we needed but I think it is now too late after all the blood that has been spilt," said 58-year-old Sergiy Yanchukov.

"It was a crime against humanity and Yanukovych should be sent to The Hague (home of the International Criminal Court)." Kiev authorities have put the death toll from the past few days at 77. But opposition medics said more than 60 protesters were shot dead by police on Thursday alone -- a toll that combined with the 28 victims on Tuesday put the final count at nearly 100 dead.

AFP

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