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In Kiev, hard-fought accord shows signs of cracks

Protesters in Liberty Square still seethed.

BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images

Protesters in Liberty Square still seethed.

KIEV — A deal aimed at ending a lethal spiral of violence in Ukraine began to show serious strains late Friday just hours after it had been signed, with angry protesters shouting down opposition members of Parliament who negotiated the accord and a militant leader threatening armed attacks if President Viktor Yanukovych did not step down by morning.

Russia, which joined France, Germany and Poland in mediating the settlement, introduced a further element of ominous uncertainty by declining to sign the accord, which reduces the power of Yanukovych, a firm ally of Moscow. This stirred fears that Moscow might now work to undo the deal through economic and other pressures, as it did last year to subvert a proposed trade deal between Ukraine and the European Union. But US officials said Russian President Vladimir Putin told President Obama in a call Friday that he would work toward resolving the crisis.

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The developments cast a shadow over a hard-fought accord that mandates early presidential elections by December, a swift return to a 2004 constitution that sharply limited the president’s powers, and the establishment within 10 days of a “government of national trust.”

A heated Ukrainian Parliament approved an accord to grant amnesty to protesters and allow the release of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

ANDREW KRAVCHENKO/EPA/Pool

A heated Ukrainian Parliament approved an accord to grant amnesty to protesters and allow the release of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

In votes that followed the accord and reflected Parliament’s determination to make it work, lawmakers moved to free Yanukovych’s imprisoned rival, former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, grant blanket amnesty to antigovernment protesters, and provide financial aid to the wounded and the families of the dead.

Aside from a series of loud explosions Friday night and angry chants in the protest encampment, Kiev was generally quiet. Authorities, although previously divided about over how to handle the crisis, seemed eager to avoid more confrontations.

By late in the afternoon, all police had vacated the government district of the capital, leaving behind burned military trucks, mattresses, and heaps of garbage at the positions they had occupied for months.

On Independence Square, the focal point of the protest movement, however, the mood was one of deep anger and determination, not triumph.

“Get out criminal! Death to the criminal!” the crowd chanted, reaffirming what, after a week of bloody violence, has become a nonnegotiable demand for many protesters: the immediate departure of Yanukovych.

When Vitali Klitschko, one of the three opposition leaders who signed the deal, spoke in its defense, people screamed “shame!” A coffin was hauled on the stage to remind him of the more than 70 people who died during violence Thursday, the most lethal day of political mayhem in Ukraine since independence from the Soviet Union more than 22 years ago.

The violence escalated the urgency of the crisis, which began with the protests in late November after a decision by Yanukovych to spurn a trade and political deal with the European Union and tilt his nation toward Russia instead.

It was difficult to know how much of the fury voiced Friday night in Independence Square was fiery bravado, a final cry of anger before the three-month-long protest movement winds down, or the harbinger of yet more violence to come.

Former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images/file 2011

Former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Vividly clear, however, was the gulf that had opened up between the opposition’s political leadership and a street movement that has radicalized and slipped far from the already tenuous control of politicians.

Klitschko was interrupted by an angry radical who did not give his name but said he was the leader of a group of fighters, known as “a hundred.”

“We gave chances to politicians to become future ministers, presidents, but they don’t want to fulfill one condition — that the criminal go away!” he said, vowing to lead an armed attack if Yanukovych had not announced his resignation by 10 a.m. local time Saturday.

Dmytro Yarosh, leader of Right Sector, a coalition of hard-line nationalist groups, reacted defiantly to news of the settlement, drawing more cheers from the crowd.

“The agreements that were reached do not correspond to our aspirations,” he said. “Right Sector will not lay down arms. Right Sector will not lift the blockade of a single administrative building until our main demand is met — the resignation of Yanukovych.”

He added that he and his supporters are “ready to take responsibility for the further development of the revolution.”

Previous settlements and truces have all broken down, engulfed by bursts of violence on the streets of Kiev and unrest in other parts of the country, particularly western regions where antigovernment sentiment has been strong.

Eric Fournier, France’s representative at the talks, cautioned that Friday’s deal was “a beginning, not an end.”

The pressure for a political settlement has been intense, coming not only from European governments but from a widespread fear among the population that this former Soviet republic of 46 million people was hurtling toward a possible civil war, particularly after the frenzied violence Thursday.

In a sign that the accord could yield concrete results, Parliament, long dominated by the president’s Party of Regions, passed a law that would allow the release from prison of Tymoshenko, an opposition leader who was incarcerated after she lost the 2010 presidential election to Yanukovych.

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