Ukraine's opposition and President Viktor Yanukovych have signed a deal aimed at ending the country's deadly political crisis. A subsequent vote in parliament to limit Yanukovych's powers as president has been passed.
The agreement was signed by Yanukovych and three main opposition leaders Friday at the presidential palace. A vote to return the country to the 2004 constitution was promptly passed in parliament, and is set to move key powers from the presidency back to lawmakers.
The deal, which was announced by President Yanukovych earlier Friday and will also pave the way for elections by December 2014, was reached after talks with EU envoys and brokered by Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and counterparts Radoslaw Sikorsi (Poland) and Laurent Fabius (France). EU officials also met with the Ukrainian opposition leaders Arseny Yatsenyuk, Vitaly Klitschko and Oleh Tyahnybok, who later signed the deal.
"There are no steps that we should not take to restore peace in Ukraine," Yanukovych said prior to the signing of the deal. "I announce that I am initiating early elections."
As well as voting for a return to the 2004 constitution, parliament also voted in favor of granting amnesty for detained protesters.
They were among the first changes under the deal which also stipulates the creation of a coalition and a national unity government within the next 10 days. Constitutional reform will start immediately in Ukraine, and must be completed by September.
Investigations into the violent scenes during several days of clashes between police and protesters in Kyiv's Independence Square - known also as Maidan - will also be conducted.
Ukraine's health ministry said Friday that fighting between demonstrators and Yanukovych's security forces had claimed at least 77 lives since Tuesday. It added that 577 people had been wounded and 369 hospitalized.
Ministers hail 'courage'
In a joint statement from Steinmeier, Sikorsi and Fabius, the three foreign ministers said they "welcome the signing of the agreement on the settlement of the crisis in Ukraine, commend the parties for their courage and commitment to the agreement and call for an immediate end to all violence and confrontation in Ukraine."
Steinmeier added it was "perhaps the last chance to find a way out of the cycle of violence."
"With it, Ukraine has got the chance to resume its way to Europe," he added.
France's President Francois Hollande also welcomed the agreement, calling in a statement for a "full and timely implementation of the deal that has just been signed." EU President Herman van Rompuy said it offered "the only democratic and peaceful way out" of the crisis, while British Prime Minister David Cameron hailed the likely end of the fighting.
"I welcome today's agreement which offers a real chance to end the bloodshed and to stop the downward spiral into the nightmare that is facing Ukraine and her people," Cameron said in a statement. "... Such scenes of carnage are truly shocking and have no place in 21st century Europe."
hc, ph/dr (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)