Ukraine president, protest leaders agree to a truce

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Ukraine\’s president and the leaders of opposition protests convulsing the capital agreed late Wednesday on a truce, after the deadliest fighting in nearly three months left at least 26 dead and hundreds of others wounded.
statement on the website of President Viktor Yanukovych announced the truce, saying it is aimed at "ending the bloodshed and stabilizing the situation…in the interests of social peace." It did not provide details. 
The Ukraine-Interfax news agency, however, quotes opposition leader Vitali Klitschko as saying he has been assured there will be no further government attempts to storm the huge protest encampment in central Kyiv.
The truce announcement comes less than a day after riot police swarmed the makeshift camp, triggering hours of fighting and widespread condemnation from Western capitals.
Police and opposition representatives said many of the dead were killed by gunshots. Dozens of the injured were reported in serious condition. Nine of the dead were police officers.
Hours before the truce was announced, the president fired his army chief and Ukraine\’s military declared a nationwide crackdown on what it called "extremist groups." Mr. Yanukovych — the target of the protests — offered no explanation for the dismissal.
In announcing the "anti-terrorist" operation, the Interior Ministry said protesters elsewhere in the country had overrun government arms depots and seized weapons and munitions. Local media quoted officials as saying they fear those stockpiles are being transported to the capital for use by protesters trying to force Mr. Yanukovych from power.
Security service chief Oleksandr Yakimenko said municipal buildings, security offices and arms depots had been raided around the country. He said 1,500 firearms and 100,000 rounds of ammunition had wound up "in the hands of criminals" over the previous 24 hours. 
Elsewhere Wednesday, the United States, Germany and France issued strong statements of protest against the violence. 
U.S. President Barack Obama warned that the United States holds the Ukrainian government "primarily responsible" for dealing with the protests in an appropriate way. Washington also imposed visa bans on 20 senior government officials believed responsible for the crackdown, and issued a travel warning for U.S. citizens in Ukraine.
Separately, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking in Paris alongside French President Francois Hollande, called for "quick and targeted sanctions" against those responsible for the violence.
European Union foreign ministers have called an emergency meeting Thursday in Brussels, where they are expected to agree on penalties against those found responsible for the violence. 
Anti-government protests have been building for weeks, with activists calling for Mr. Yanukovych\’s ouster after he backed away from a trade deal with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia.
In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov condemned the deadly Ukraine protests as a "coup attempt." He denied claims President Vladimir Putin was giving advice to Ukraine\’s president on how to handle the crisis and reiterated Moscow would not interfere with Ukraine\’s internal affairs.
On Wednesday, Ukraine\’s state security service announced it was preparing a nationwide "anti-terrorist" campaign to deal with a growing "extremist threat". There was also a suggestion the armed forces could be deployed for the first time.
Unrest broke out in Ukraine last year when Yanukovich rejected a free-trade agreement with the European Union and opted for a $15bn package of Russian credits and cheaper gas to support Ukraine\’s ailing economy in November.
Source: VOA and agencies

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