The Ukrainian presidency has said it has negotiated a deal intended to end violent battles between police and protesters that have killed scores and injured hundreds of people, but European mediators involved in the talks would not confirm a breakthrough.
Shots have been fired near Kiev’s Independence Square, known as the Maidan, but it is unclear where they are coming from or whom they are targeting.
The Interior Ministry has accused the opposition of breaking a shaky truce and firing at law enforcement officers.
Viktor Yanukovych’s office said the government and opposition have agreed to sign the deal at noon local time (10am Irish Time), but would not give details.
Yanukovych and the opposition are locked in a battle over the identity of Ukraine, a nation of 46 million that has divided loyalties between Russia and the West.
Several regions in the west of the country are in open revolt against the central government, while many in eastern Ukraine back the president and favor strong ties with Russia, their former Soviet ruler.
The demonstrators, who have camped for three months on Kiev’s Independence Square are demanding Yanukovych’s resignation and early elections. The president, who triggered the protests by aborting a pact with the European Union in favor of close ties with Russia, has made some concessions but refused to step down.
The report of a deal followed the worst violence yet in the confrontation between the government and protesters.
Protesters advanced on police lines in the heart of the Ukrainian capital yesterday, prompting government snipers to shoot back and kill scores of people in the country’s deadliest day since the breakup of the Soviet Union a quarter of a century ago.
Dr Oleh Musiy, the medical coordinator for the protesters, said at least 70 protesters were killed yesterday and over 500 wounded. The Interior Ministry said three policemen were killed and 28 suffered gunshot wounds.
A statement on the website of the Health Ministry said 77 people had been killed between Tuesday morning, when the violence began, and this morning. The statement said 577 people had been wounded and 369 hospitalized.
European diplomats, who were involved in the talks between Yanukovych and the opposition that went on for hours yesterday and continued into the night, urged caution and said they could not confirm an accord had been reached.
A German official in Kiev said the talks were continuing. A French official said it may be too early to call it an accord.
French foreign minister Laurent Fabius, who was involved in the talks along with his German and Polish counterparts, said on Europe-1 radio that “as long as things are not effectively completed, we must remain very prudent”.
“The opposition wants to consult a certain number of its supporters, which is understandable,” he said. “We discussed all subjects during these negotiations. It was done in an extremely difficult atmosphere, because there were dozens of dead and the country is on the verge of civil war.”
A lull in fighting appeared to hold this morning, as several thousand protesters milled around the Maidan, and volunteers walked freely to the protest camps to donate food and other packages.
Support for the president appeared to be weakening, as reports said the army’s deputy chief of staff, Yury Dumansky, was resigning in “disagreement with the politics of pulling the armed forces into an internal civil conflict”.
Late yesterday, the Ukrainian parliament passed a measure that would prohibit an “anti-terrorist operation” threatened by Yanukovych to restore order, and called for all Interior Ministry troops to return to their bases.