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Eastern Ukrainians rap Kiev in talks

By The Associated Press

This article was published May 17, 2014 at 10:22 a.m.

— Lawmakers and officials from eastern Ukraine on Saturday poured criticism on the fledging central government, accusing it of ignoring the grievances of the regions which have been overrun by pro-Russia militia fighting for independence.

The criticism came in the second round of European-brokered talks intended to resolve the country's worst crisis since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Politicians from the east implored the government to believe that -- apart from the pro-Russia gunmen -- a large portion of population were desperate for the government to listen.

Separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions held hastily arranged referenda last weekend and declared independence following the vote, which went in favor of sovereignty.

The round-table talks in the eastern city of Kharkiv did not feature any of the insurgents, whom Kiev describes as terrorists. The insurgents say they are willing to discuss only the withdrawal of Ukrainian troops and the recognition of their independence.

"The referendum doesn't have any legal consequences," said Valery Holenko, chairman of the Luhansk regional government. "But it has expressed the will of the people, which cannot be discounted. People genuinely went en masse to the referendum. This was a protest vote."

Holenko said the devolution of powers that the government is offering is no longer enough and that as a first step in appeasing eastern Ukrainians the government has to stop its "anti-terrorist operation" in the east.

Government officials did not reply to these and similar comments during the three-hour session.

Acting Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who was often busy with his iPad while some of the eastern lawmakers were making passionate speeches, called on the eastern leaders to resist the armed men and support the government's efforts to devolve powers to the regions.

Ahead of the talks, sustained gunfire was heard throughout the night near the eastern city of Slovyansk, the stronghold of pro-Russia fighters, after forces loyal to the Kiev government moved in to protect a television tower.

The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement condemning what it described as a sharp escalation of violence in eastern Ukraine, and accused the Ukrainian government of using the talks as cover for military operations against its citizens.


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