cbc.ca (© Copyright: (C) Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, http://www.cbc.ca/aboutcbc/discover/termsofuse.html#Rss)
Updated: Fri, 21 Feb 2014 14:40:28 GMT | By The Associated Press, cbc.ca

Tensions high at main Ukraine protest camp despite deal



People shout as they listen to speeches in front of a statue in Independence Square in Kiev on Feb. 21, 2014, after Ukraine's opposition leaders signed an EU-mediated peace deal with President Viktor Yanukovich. Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters

People shout as they listen to speeches in front of a statue in Independence Square in Kiev on Feb. 21, 2014, after Ukraine's opposition leaders signed an EU-mediated peace deal with President Viktor Yanukovich. Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters

Anger is percolating at Kyiv's sprawling protest camp despite a hard-won deal between Ukraine's opposition and its
beleaguered president.

Protesters booed opposition figures who took to a stage Friday evening at Independence Square to present the deal.

One radical speaker at the camp threatened to go on the offensive with weapons if the opposition doesn't demand that President Viktor Yanukovych resign by Saturday morning. Others started chanting "Death to the criminal!" referring to Yanukovych.

The president agreed Friday to relinquish some powers and bring the opposition into the government. But the deal calls for an early election, a new constitution and a new unity government. But it stops short of the protesters' main demand: Yanukovych's immediate departure.

Ukraine's newly empowered parliament also fired the country's despised interior minister and voted to free Yulia Tymoshenko, the former prime minister who has spent more than two years in jail for what supporters say are politically tainted charges.

"Free Yulia! Free Yulia!" legislators chanted after the vote.

It's not immediately clear when she might be released from the jail in the eastern city of Kharkiv.

Possible break-through

If it holds, the ambitious agreement could be a major breakthrough in a months-long crisis over Ukraine's future, a standoff that worsened sharply this week and left scores dead and hundreds wounded in the worst violence the country has seen since it became independent in 1991.

Within hours of the signing, Ukraine's parliament voted to restore the 2004 constitution that limits presidential authority, clawing back some of the powers that President Viktor Yanukovych had pushed through for himself after being elected in 2010.

Although Yanukovych retains an apparent majority in parliament, he loses the power to nominate the prime minister and to fire the Cabinet. Lawmakers also approved an amnesty for protesters involved in violence.

Three European foreign ministers spent two days and all night trying to negotiate an end to the standoff, which began when Yanukovych decided not to sign a pact with the European Union in November in favour of having closer ties with Russia.

The U.S., Russia and the 28-nation EU are deeply concerned about the future of Ukraine, a nation of 46 million that has divided loyalties between Russia and the West. The country's western regions want very much to be closer to the EU and have rejected Yanukovych's authority in many cities, while eastern Ukraine favours closer ties with Russia.

The agreement signed Friday says presidential elections will be held no later than December, instead of March 2015 as scheduled. Many protesters say December is too late — they want Yanukovych out immediately.

Ukrainian authorities also will now name a new unity government that includes top opposition figures within 10 days.

Disputes sill possible

But neither side won all the points it sought, and some vague conditions could ignite strong disputes down the road.

The deal says the government will not impose a state of emergency and both sides will refrain from violence. It says opposition protesters should hand over any weapons and withdraw from buildings they have occupied and protest camps around the country.

It is far from clear that the thousands of protesters camped out in Kyiv on Friday will pack up and go home. One by one, protesters took to a stage on Independence Square, known as the Maidan, to say they're not happy.

"Resign! Resign! Resign!" they chanted.

"The Maidan will stand up until Yanukovych leaves," said protester Anataly Shevchuk, 29. "That's the main demand, both for those who were killed, and for those who are still standing on the Maidan."

"I hope that the direction of the country changes, but so far the goals of the Maidan have not been achieved," said Kira Rushnitskaya, a 45-year-old protester. "Yanukovych agreed to give up powers to stay in power overall."

No deadline for leaving the camp in central Kyiv has been set and many protesters are likely to move out slowly, both because of the emotional closeness the camp fostered and because of distrust that the deal will actually be implemented.

more video