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Ukraine troops killed in ambush

Six Ukrainian servicemen have been killed and eight wounded in an ambush in the country's restive east, defence officials said.

The troops were attacked outside the town of Kramatorsk by at least 30 insurgents using grenade launchers and automatic weapons, the defence ministry said.

Pro-Russia insurgents have been capturing government buildings and controlling towns and cities across eastern Ukraine for a month, and two eastern regions - Donetsk and Luhansk - declared independence yesterday.

The ambush came after European Union foreign ministers added 13 people to their visa ban and asset freeze list over Ukraine's crisis.

But they are not expected to decide whether to impose tough economic measures on Russia before Ukraine's May 25 elections, officials said.

The 28 EU ministers also said that two firms in Russia-annexed Crimea would be hit with asset freezes.

The ministers agreed to expand the scope of visa bans and asset freezes to target people undermining stability in Ukraine or obstructing international organisations there.

The Obama administration has its own sanctions list that targets several close associates of Russian president Vladimir Putin and their assets for Russia's actions in Ukraine.

The targets of the new sanctions include Russia's top prosecutor in Crimea, the commander of Russian airborne troops, a member of Mr Putin's staff, and people identified by the EU as leaders of the armed pro-Moscow revolt in eastern Ukraine.

A total of 61 people are now on the EU's sanctions list due to Ukraine.

Germany's foreign minister is trying to broker a quick launch of talks between Ukraine's central government and pro-Russia separatists.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Germany supports Ukraine's efforts to arrange dialogue between the central government and its opponents in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions that form the nation's industrial heartland.

Pro-Russia insurgents have clashed with government forces in eastern Ukraine in the past month and are holding some journalists and others hostage. Mr Steinmeier voiced hope for a quick release of the hostages and the handover of occupied buildings and stressed the importance of holding Ukraine's presidential vote as planned on May 25.

The Ukrainian government and the West have accused Russia of fomenting the mutiny in the east to derail Ukraine's presidential vote and possibly grab more land.

Meanwhile, insurgents said unidentified assailants fired at a car carrying Valery Bolotov, a separatist leader in Luhansk. Mr Bolotov was being treated in hospital but his wounds were not life-threatening, the insurgents said.

Mr Bolotov was the one who yesterday announced independence for his region.

Mr Steinmeier's trip is part of the road map for settling Ukraine's crisis laid out by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, a transatlantic security group.

Russia called today for a swift implementation of the OSCE plan, saying its demand to end violence means that the central government in Kiev should stop its military operation to recapture buildings in the east, lift its blockade of cities and towns, pull its forces from eastern regions and release all political prisoners.

"We are demanding (they) stop intimidating civilians by using force or threatening to use it," Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

It added that it expects separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk to respond in kind if Kiev does that.

Russia also urged the United States and the European Union to persuade authorities in Kiev to prioritise discussions of giving more powers to Ukraine's regions ahead of the country's May 25 presidential vote.

The separatists held a referendum on Sunday and claimed that about 90% of those who voted in Donetsk and Luhansk backed sovereignty. The two regions declared independence yesterday and those in Donetsk even asked to join Russia.

Ukraine's acting president called the vote a sham and Western governments said it violated international law.


From Belfast Telegraph