Protesters have held their ground in Kyiv overnight despite a breakthrough peace deal. Ukraine now awaits the outcome of the pact, which is to pave the way for political reform and the release of ex-premier Tymoshenko.
Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters remained on Kyiv's Independence Square into early Saturday despite the signing of an accord between President Viktor Yanukovych and opposition leaders. The breakthrough deal was aimed at ending months of political instability and hailed as an important first step toward ending this week's violence in Kyiv, which claimed the lives of over 70 protesters and saw hundreds wounded.
However, the development on Friday night did not appear to appease many of the government critics who have been calling for President Yanukovych's resignation.
Heavy weight boxing champion turned opposition leader Vitali Klitschko was received by a booing crowd following the announcement of the high-level agreement. People in the crowd shouted "Death to the criminal!" and "Resign! Resign! Resign!," vocalizing the fate they hoped the president would soon meet.
"I received no pleasure from signing this deal," the opposition leader said. "[But] he's not going to resign. This isn't realistic. We have to think about realistic steps."
An ultranationalist speaker from the crowd, whose name has not yet been confirmed, reportedly pledged that protesters would resume their fight at 10 a.m. local time (0800 UTC) Saturday morning if President Yanukovych still remained in office.
By early Saturday morning, the Ukrainian president had left Kyiv, according to Ukrainian media outlets. However, sources diverged on his destination, with some suggesting he had flown to Kharkov to participate in regional political talks, while others said he had travelled to Sochi to join Russian President Vladimir Putin.
On Friday evening, Ukrainian leaders from the government and the opposition signed a peace deal which foresees the implementation of key political reforms aimed at returning stability to Ukraine.
The accord included provisions to carry out constitutional reforms by September, paving the way for elections by December 2014.
In the wake of deadly clashes between security forces and protesters in Kyiv this week, the opposing political sides agreed to conduct investigations into the violence and to ensure amnesty was granted to demonstrators arrested during the protests.
The deal was brokered by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorsi and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. President Yanukovych signed the pact, alongside opposition leaders Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Vitali Klitschko and Oleh Tyahnybok.
Lawmakers wasted little time in voting through several significant motions. A return to the 2004 constitution, which moves significant powers from the president back to parliament, was the first matter to be voted on. Decisions to grant amnesty to demonstrators arrested in the anti-government protests and the firing of interior minister Vitali Zakharchenko followed. A vote to release Tymoshenko was then held, with 310 lawmakers of around 380 in favor. It is as yet unclear, however, when she will be released from jail in Kharkiv.
'It's the beginning'
International leaders responded positively to the peace deal, but also signalled they would be pushing for its swift implementation.
"This agreement is no the end of the process. It's the beginning of the process," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who helped broker the deal, said.
Several hours later, US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin also echoed this sentiment, according to a senior State Department official speaking on the condition of anonymity.
During their "constructive" telephone conversation, President Putin said he wanted Moscow to have an active role in ensuring the plan was realized.
"They agreed that the agreement reached today needed to be implemented quickly, that it was very important to encourage all sides to refrain from violence, that there was a real opportunity here for a peaceful outcome," the State Department official said.
In November, Yanukovych's decision to shelve an Association Agreement with the EU in favor of closer ties with Moscow sparked the mass protests. In return, Russia granted Ukraine a $15 billion (10.9 billion euro) loan to help keep its economy afloat.
kms/tj (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)
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