KIEV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s president gave in to pressure from European diplomats and offered concessions today to defuse a crisis that has divided his country and left scores dead. Shots rang out near Kiev’s protest camp and protesters fought among themselves about what to do next.
The capital remained tense after President Viktor Yanukovych announced early presidential elections and promised to bring opposition members into the government — but didn’t say when.
German and Polish officials and an opposition spokeswoman said the Maidan protest movement had agreed to a deal with the president. But it is unclear whether the president’s belated concessions will be enough to satisfy protesters who have occupied a piece of Kiev and government buildings around the country in a nationwide battle over the identity of their country.
European foreign ministers had stayed up all night in Kiev trying to negotiate an end to the standoff, prompted when the president aborted a pact with the European Union in November in favor of close ties with Russia instead.
Germany’s Foreign Ministry tweeted today that the Maidan council, which has been leading the protest movement, “has decided that opposition leaders can sign the agreement.” A spokeswoman for opposition leader Vitaly Klitschko, Oksana Zinovyeva, told The Associated Press that opposition figures were heading to the president’s office and had agreed to a deal.
An EU official in Brussels said that if an agreement is signed, Russia and the EU would act as observers to ensure that it is implemented. Russia’s government did not immediately comment.
The U.S., Russia and European Union are deeply concerned about the future of Ukraine, a nation of 46 million that has divided loyalties between Russia and the West. Shots were heard again today near the protesters’ camp in Kiev, a day after the deadliest violence in Ukraine’s post-Soviet history. It is unclear who was targeted and whether anyone was hurt or injured in today’s incident.
Small groups of protesters advanced toward the president’s office, torching one truck and seizing two others. Scuffles broke out between a few dozen radicals who wanted to attack the building and more moderate protesters.
Police who had been guarding the Ukrainian parliament building left this afternoon, taking their trucks and water cannon with them but leaving behind mattresses and hard hats. They were heading away from the protest camp, but it was unclear why they abandoned their positions.
“As the president of Ukraine and the guarantor of the Constitution, today I am fulfilling my duty before the people, before Ukraine and before God in the name of saving the nation, in the name of preserving people’s lives, in the name of peace and calm of our land,” the president said in a statement on his website.
Yanukovych also promised constitutional reforms trimming presidential powers, a key demand of protesters.
The opposition rejected similar invitations to join the government in the past, saying that constitutional reform giving parliament greater powers has to be passed first.
On the early elections, a Yanukovych ally said that they would be held in December instead of March — not soon enough for many protesters enraged by police violence.
Lawmaker Inna Bogoslovskaya, allied with the opposition, told The AP that December is too late for elections. “After 77 corpses yesterday ... that changes the stakes,” she said. “The Maidan (protest movement) demands immediate resignation of the president instead of early elections.”
Protesters will not abandon occupied buildings until after the constitution is changed, she added.