Separatists vote for leader in breakaway eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists will vote to set up a breakaway regional leadership in the eastern Ukraine region of Donetsk and Luhansk aiming to take their war-torn region closer to Russia and defying Kiev and the West as the big guns still boom across the territory.

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'More than 3,000 killed' in Ukraine conflict

Thousands of Russians protested against the armed conflict in Ukraine in the first major anti-war rally in Moscow since the start of the standoff between Kiev and pro-Russian rebels.

Supporters of the self-proclaimed republics of Donbass and Luhansk clash with the anti-war rally protesters in Moscow. Credit: Reuters

The armed conflict in eastern Ukraine, which Kiev and the West blame on Russia's support of the separatist armed groups, has killed more than 3,000 people since April, although this month's ceasefire has brought a relative calm.

Supporters of the self-proclaimed republics of Donbass and Luhansk shout slogans before an anti-war rally in Moscow. Credit: Reuters

The organisers of "The March for peace" said over 50,000 people were expected to take the streets in Moscow alone to deliver a strong message to President Vladimir Putin: stop the war.

Nato: Ukraine truce 'in name only'

Fighting in Ukraine is continuing and the truce there is a ceasefire "in name only", Nato's top military commander said. "The situation in Ukraine is not good right now," U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove told reporters in Vilnius.

"Basically, we have ceasefire in name only," he added.

A Ukrainian serviceman secures the area during an exchange of prisoners-of-war near Donetsk. Credit: Reuters

Ukraine's government and pro-Russian rebels have agreed to strengthen an earlier ceasefire agreement in eastern Ukraine.

More than 3,000 people have been killed since fighting began in the region five months ago.


Ukraine and pro-Russian rebels agree peace plan

Ukraine's government and pro-Russian rebels have agreed to strengthen a ceasefire agreement in eastern Ukraine.

More than 3,000 people have died in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Credit: Reuters

The deal includes creating a buffer zone to separate government troops and pro-Russian militants, withdrawing heavy weapons and foreign fighters and bans flights by military aircraft over eastern Ukraine.

Agreement was reached following talks in the Belarusian capital Minsk between representatives of Ukraine, Russia, separatists and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

It is hoped the agreement will add substance to the ceasefire deal that was signed on September 5.

More than 3,000 people have been killed since fighting began in the region five months ago.

Pro-Russian forces hold journalist hostage in Slaviansk

Pro-Russian separatists are holding an American journalist in the Ukrainian town of Slaviansk.

Simon Ostrovsky, who works for Vice News, is apparently being held in the local headquarters of the Ukrainian security services, which have been seized by pro-Russian forces.

Journalist Simon Ostrovsky pictured with a masked pro-Russian gunman Credit: Associated Press

A spokeswoman for the insurgents said Mr Ostrovsky is "fine" but is "suspected of bad activities" and is under investigation, according to the Associated Press.

Ukraine to target pro-Russian groups 'in near future'

The Easter truce between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists has come to an end, the Ukrainian government has announced.

Deputy Prime Minister Vitaliy Yarema said the government would now move to eliminate militant separatist groups who are holding public buildings in the east of Ukraine "in the near future".

Mr Yarema also said Kiev hoped for "more substantive" help from the United States in the event of any Russian aggression.


Russia warned over eastern Ukraine tensions

John Kerry warned Sergei Lavrov that Russia must de-escalate tensions in eastern Ukraine. Credit: Parspix/ABACA

Secretary John Kerry has warned Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that Washington will impose more sanctions on Russia if tensions did not de-escalate in eastern Ukraine, a US official told the Reuters news agency.

The telephone call between the two follows a vow from Ukraine's interim government to step up anti-terror operations after the body of a pro-unity politician was allegedly found brutally tortured.

'We will never recognise Russia's occupation of Crimea'

US Vice President Joe Biden today warned Russia that the US would "never recognise" its occupation of Crimea.

US Vice President Joe Biden issued a warning to Russia today Credit: RTV

Speaking on a visit to Kiev, he said: "No nation has the right to simply grab land from another nation.

"No nation has that right and we will never recognise Russia's illegal occupation of Crimea and neither will the world."

Following the press conference, the Pentagon announced that it will send around 600 US troops to Poland and the three Baltic states, in a bid to reassure the NATO allies.

Ukraine calls for anti-terror relaunch amid torture claim

Ukraine's acting president Oleksander Turchinov has called for the relaunch of an anti-terrorist operation in the east of the country after the "brutally tortured" body of a local politician from his own party was found near the separatist-controlled city of Slaviansk.

Oleksander Turchinov seen in combat fatigues last month. Credit: Reuters

Mr Turchinov said Volodymyr Rybak, a member of Turchinov's Batkivshchyna party, had recently been abducted by "terrorists".

"These crimes are being carried out with the full support and indulgence of the Russian Federation," he said. "I call on the security agencies to relaunch and carry out effective anti-terrorist measures, with the aim of protecting Ukrainian citizens living in eastern Ukraine from terrorists."

Ukrainian military plane hit by gunfire over Slaviansk

A Ukrainian military plane has been hit by gunfire over the eastern city of Slaviansk today.

A Ukrainian Sukhoi Su-27 jet fighter flies above Slaviansk on 16 April Credit: Reuters

The aircraft was on a reconnaissance flight over the city, which has been taken over by armed pro-Russian separatists, the Defence Ministry said.

Several bullets struck the Antonov An-30 turboprop spotter plane but it was able to land safely, the ministry said in a statement.

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