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Encouraged by developments, Ottawa puts Ukraine sanctions on hold

In a fast-moving day that could significantly shift Ukraine's political destiny, opposition leaders signed a deal Friday with the country's beleaguered president that calls for an early election, a new constitution and a new unity government. (Feb. 21)

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Ottawa is at least temporarily backing off on imposing economic sanctions against senior Ukrainian officials, saying it welcomes the agreement between President Viktor Yanukovych's regime and the opposition but will evaluate the beleaguered government based on actions – not just promises.

Under the agreement, brokered mainly by European Union foreign ministers who put pressure on opposition party leaders and Mr. Yanukovych, a unity government would be formed and new elections held before December.

"We welcome news of the agreement between the Yanukovych regime and the opposition," the PMO said Friday afternoon. "But we will judge actions not words. The regime must deliver on its commitments to the Ukrainian people and end the violence that has led to the deaths of scores of civilians."

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On Thursday, one of the bloodiest days in the months-long crisis, the Conservative government announced expanded travel restrictions and targeted asset freezes for those it deemed responsible for the violence of the past weeks.

But on Friday, with a peace deal signed and the Ukrainian parliament newly empowered, the Prime Minister's Office said it is holding off on economic sanctions as it monitors the situation. "We will continue to work closely with our allies on next steps, including the implementation of asset freezes should events on the ground necessitate additional measures."

However, the expanded visa restrictions, which bar senior regime figures from entering Canada and build on the first ban announced Jan. 28, will remain in place. The United States and the EU have also announced travel restrictions.

Should the asset freezes go forward, the names of those hit with financial sanctions will be released after official notice is printed in the government's Canada Gazette newspaper.

The sanctions, as explained Thursday, would also prohibit anyone in Canada or any Canadian outside Canada from making certain financial transactions – property deals, for example – on behalf of a targeted individual.

The situation in Kiev has been fluid over the past three months, with Western leaders vowing not to blindly accept President Viktor Yanukovych's announcements at face value. By Friday, events in the eastern European nation were unfolding quickly after both sides signed the deal allowing for early elections and a new, interim government.

With the potential breakthrough, Ukrainians also celebrated the announced release of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who has spent more than two years in prison but will be released thanks to a parliamentary vote Friday.

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The crisis in Ukraine began last fall, after Mr. Yanukovych shunned deeper association with the European Union in favour of closer ties with Russia, which had promised a $15-billion bailout for the recession-hit Ukrainian economy.

With a report from Paul Waldie in Kiev

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