Ukraine lawmakers pass bill that would free ex-PM Yulia Tymoshenko

KIEV, Ukraine, Feb. 21 (UPI) -- Ukraine's Parliament passed a bill to free imprisoned former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, as the president and opposition forces signed a peace accord.

News of Friday's passage of the bill, which picked up more than 300 supporters, came after President Viktor Yanukovych and opposition leaders signed an agreement to end a crisis that left scores of people dead and hundreds injured.


Yanukovych had announced there would be early presidential elections and a return to an earlier constitution -- major concessions to protesters -- and an agreement was reached following talks that started Thursday and went through the night.

The Verkhovna Rada -- Ukraine's Parliament -- amended to its Criminal Code and Criminal Procedure Code concerning how provisions of the U.N. Convention against Corruption are applied to national laws, Interfax Ukraine reported. Tymoshenko, an opponent of Yanukovych, has been imprisoned on a corruption conviction she said she was politically motivated.

Foreign Ministers Radoslaw Sikorski of Poland, Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany and Laurent Fabius of France facilitated the negotiations between Yanukovych and opposition leaders.

The deal includes formation of a coalition government officials said.


"The United States welcomes the agreement signed today between Ukrainian President Yanukovych and opposition leaders," the White House press office said in a statement. "The agreement, facilitated by foreign ministers Fabius, Sikorski, and Steinmeier and witnessed by Russia, is consistent with what we have advocated in calling for a de-escalation of the violence, constitutional change, a coalition government, and early elections.

"We support the efforts of all those who negotiated this agreement, commend the courageous opposition leaders who recognized the need for compromise, and offer the support of the United States in its implementation," the White House statement said. "Now, the focus must be on concrete action to implement this agreement, which we will be monitoring closely."

In a national address, Yanukovych said, "I am announcing steps needed to restore peace and avoid further victims of the standoff."

Some critics expressed doubt about Yanukovych's announcements.

Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko said, "We must do everything to stop the confrontation, and the people who gave illegal orders will be brought to justice."

Twice this week, cease-fires were announced and twice they crumbled. On Tuesday, 26 people died in violence after political concessions failed and Thursday a second cease-fire disintegrated and many more people were killed in the violent aftermath.


Casualty reports varied. The Health Ministry said 77 people had died since Tuesday, including 39 from Thursday. Opposition medical personnel put the number at 100.

Both sides said hundreds of people were injured.

Security forces fired on protesters who were shooting at unarmed police, the Interior Ministry said.

Protesters began rebuilding barricades in the Maidan -- the Independence Square in Kiev -- early Friday and began re-occupying government buildings, the BBC said.

The protests began in November when Yanukovych changed his mind about signing political and trade agreements with the European Union, favoring closer ties with Russia instead.

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