Saturday 27 December 2014

Ukraine protest leaders warned: 'Sign deal or you will all die'

Roland Oliphant and Hannah Strange Kiev

Published 22/02/2014 | 02:30

Anti-government protesters man the front line barricades following yesterdays clashes with police in Independence square. Getty Images
Anti-government protesters man the front line barricades following yesterdays clashes with police in Independence square. Getty Images
Anti-government protesters use torches and mobile devices during a rally in central Independence Square in Kiev. Ukraine's opposition leaders signed an EU-mediated peace deal with President Viktor Yanukovich on Friday, aiming to resolve the crisis. Reuters
Ukrainan deputies fight during a session of parliament in Kiev. Fighting broke out between deputies in Ukraine's parliament on Friday when the speaker declared a pause, delaying a debate on a possible resolution calling for President Viktor Yanukovich's powers to be reduced. Reuters
Anti-government proterters discuss next to an improvised catapult in the Independence Square in Kiev. Ukraine's opposition leaders signed an EU-mediated peace deal with President Viktor Yanukovich on Friday, aiming to resolve the political crisis. Reuters
Anti-government protesters pose for photos: Vasily Fedosenko
Protesters hold mobile phones aloft during memorial for those killed in the clashes. Photo: Vasily Fedosenko
A priest stands next to anti-government protesters at a barricade in Kiev. Violence flared again in Kiev on Friday as Ukraine's opposition politicians pondered a draft deal with Russian-backed President Viktor Yanukovich which EU foreign ministers brokered to resolve the country's political crisis. Reuters
Anti-government protesters man a barricade in Kiev. Reuters

The message from the Polish foreign minister could hardly have been more direct: "Sign the deal or you will all be dead."

He was filmed addressing a protest leader and warning him that if the opposition did not sign up to a plan offered by Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych "you will all be dead".

Radoslaw Sikorski, one of three European foreign ministers who brokered yesterday's agreement to end the bloody standoff, was emerging from talks with opposition leaders when he issued the stark warning.

"If you don't support this [deal] you'll have martial law, the army. You will all be dead," he said in comments that were captured on film by ITV News.

When asked if he had managed to convince the opposition, the minister, clearly frustrated, muttered: "I don't know."

After a break in talks, the ministers returned to the negotiating table, and shortly afterwards announced that the opposition had agreed to sign the deal. "To my knowledge, interior ministry troops were being readied," he said according to the news channel.

The astonishing warning will disturb an international community which has been pressing hard for a deal to bring an end to the violence which left more than 70 protesters dead amid sniper attacks on Thursday.

While it is hoped that the agreement will stop Ukraine sliding into civil war, the suggestion that it has apparently been forced on the opposition under the threat of deadly force will be difficult to stomach.

TIMEFRAME

The agreement, which calls for early presidential elections, the return of the 2004 constitution and the formation of a government of national unity, was the result of nearly 24 hours of non-stop shuttle diplomacy by the EU foreign ministers and a Russian government delegation. "Good compromise for Ukraine. Gives peace a chance. Opens the way to reform and to Europe. Poland and EU support it," Mr Sikorski posted on his Twitter page.

Tanaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Eamon Gilmore welcomed the agreement reached in Kiev but warned a clear timeframe must be set for progress.

"I hope this will bring an end to the appalling scenes of violence that we have witnessed on the streets there this week," he said. Mr Yanukovych and the three opposition party leaders Arseny Yatsenyuk, Vitalty Klitchko, and Oleh Tyahnybok, finally signed at 4pm.

The deal grants several key demands that protesters have put forward in the past. Returning the 2004 constitution would strip Mr Yanukovych of many of the sweeping executive powers the presidency currently enjoys.

Mr Yatsenyuk, Mr Klitchko, and Mr Tyahnybok reportedly refused to sign until they had consulted with protesters, apparently worried that they would fail to sell the compromise to an increasingly hard-line crowd who want Mr Yanukovich's resignation.

It is far from clear that all protesters within the disparate alliance will abide by the deal, and Mr Sikorski's unsettling revelation could act as a call to arms for the more radical groups. Among protesters on Maidan Square, the attitude to Mr Yanukovych's offer of snap elections and return to the 2004 constitution is best summarised as one of indifference.

"There is no possible deal that would mean anything to us. There was a chance for compromise, and Yanukovych missed it," said one person who declined to be named.

Pravy Sektor, the right-wing paramilitary group whose fighters have played a prominent role in fighting since January, immediately rejected the elements of the deal announced by Mr Yanukovych. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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