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Vladimir Putin pulls army back at Ukraine frontier

By Staff Reporter

Russia has pulled back its troops from the Ukrainian border, President Vladimir Putin told diplomats as he urged insurgents in south-eastern Ukraine to postpone their planned referendum on autonomy.

In a meeting in Moscow with Swiss President Didier Burkhalter, Mr Putin said the Russian troops had been pulled back to their training grounds and locations for "regular exercises", but he did not specify whether those locations were in areas near Ukraine.

A Defence Ministry spokesman declined to say where the troops are now positioned.

Mr Putin also called on Ukraine's military to halt all operations against pro-Russia activists who have seized government buildings and police stations in at least a dozen towns in eastern Ukraine. Mr Putin also described Ukraine's May 25 presidential election as a move "in the right direction".

Ukraine launched a government offensive late last week to take back buildings and towns under control of the insurgents. At least 35 people, including many rebels, have died in that offensive, the government said.

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