Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has announced a truce with opposition leaders and a start to negotiations to end further bloodshed. The statement came after a meeting with three anti-government leaders.
After street violence which left at least 26 people dead, and ahead of a visit to Ukraine by the foreign ministers of Germany, Poland and France, the statement was issued on the presidential website after a meeting on Wednesday with opposition leaders Vitali Klitschko, Arseny Yatseniuk and far-right nationalist Oleh Tyahnibok.
"Based on the results of the meeting, the sides announced a truce and the start of a negotiations process aimed at ending the bloodshed (and) stabilizing the situation in the country for the benefit of civil peace," the president's website announced.
Former economy minister Yatseniuk said in a statement on the website of his Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party: "The storming of the Maidan (Independence Square) which the authorities had planned today will not take place."
"A truce has been declared. The main thing is to protect human life," Yatseniuk said.
In a further development on Wednesday evening, the president replaced the chief of Ukraine's armed forces.
Fires continued to burn overnight on Wednesday along the barricaded frontline between protesters and police around Independence Square or Maidan.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande called for targeted sanctions against Ukraine's leadership at a joint press conference in Paris on Wednesday.
Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier will be joined by his French and Polish counterparts in Kyiv on Thursday.
Emergency talks are being held at the EU in Brussels on Thursday to "examine targeted measures" against those responsible for violence and excessive force in Ukraine, according to European Council President Herman Van Rompuy.
US President Barack Obama called the truce a "welcome step forward," but said the White House would continue to monitor the situation closely to "ensure that actions mirror words."
The State Department announced late on Wednesday that it had imposed visa bans on 20 Ukrainian government officials it considered "responsible for ordering human rights abuses related to political oppression."
jm/dr (Reuters, AFP)
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