KIEV: Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich said Wednesday he had agreed a “truce” with opposition leaders, after street violence in which at least 26 people were killed.
A statement on the presidential website said that during talks with the three main opposition leaders, Yanukovich had agreed firstly a truce and secondly “the start to negotiations with the aim of ending bloodshed, and stabilizing the situation in the state in the interests of social peace.”
The statement, issued on the eve of a visit by the foreign ministers of Germany, Poland and France, appeared to indicate that riot police who Tuesday night advanced on Kiev’s Independence Square would not take further immediate steps to break up the encampment of protesters.
Former Economy Minister Arseny Yatseniuk, one of the opposition leaders, 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.”
Yanukovich issued his statement following talks with Yatseniuk, boxer-turned-politician Vitaly Klitschko and far-right nationalist Oleh Tyahnibok.
The development comes after Western powers threatened sanctions Wednesday over the death of 26 people in the worst violence since Ukraine’s independence from the Soviet Union, pressuring President Viktor Yanukovich to compromise with his pro-EU opponents.
Yanukovich, backed by Russia, earlier denounced the overnight bloodshed in central Kiev as an attempted coup, and his security service said it had launched a nationwide “anti-terrorist operation” after arms and ammunition dumps were looted.
In the western bastion of Ukrainian nationalism, a regional assembly declared self-rule and crowds seized public buildings.
U.S. President Barack Obama condemned the violence and warned of consequences if it continued, while EU leaders said they were preparing targeted sanctions against those responsible for the “unjustified use of excessive force by the Ukrainian authorities.” EU officials said Yanukovich himself would not be on the list to keep channels of dialogue open.
A presidential decree appointed a new head of the armed forces general staff, naming navy head Admiral Yury Ilyin in place of Col. Gen. Volodymyr Zamana. The decree gave no explanation for the change in personnel.
Protesters have been occupying central Kiev for almost three months since Yanukovich spurned a trade deal with the EU and accepted a $15 billion Russian bailout instead.
After night fell on Kiev’s Independence Square, or Maidan, fires blazed along the barricaded frontline between the protesters and police, but there was no immediate sign of a repetition of Tuesday’s violence.
Yanukovich declared Thursday a day of mourning. The Health Ministry said 26 people were killed in Tuesday’s fighting in the capital, of whom 10 were police officers. A ministry official said 263 protesters were being treated for injuries and 342 police officers, mainly with gunshot wounds.