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Ukraine Holds Second Round Of 'National Dialogue' With Separatist Leaders Absent

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said he would not negotiate with "terrorists" unless they laid down their arms.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said he would not negotiate with "terrorists" unless they laid down their arms.
Ukraine's government has held a second round of "national unity" talks aimed at de-escalating the crisis in the country's southeast.

No separatist leaders took part in the talks on May 17 in the northeastern city of Kharkiv.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk told the meeting that his government would not negotiate with the "terrorists" until they lay down their arms.

He said his government is willing to give wide powers to regional administrations but will never allow the "dismemberment" of the country.

Some officials from eastern Ukraine criticized the government for not paying enough attention to the grievances of the regions.

Valeriy Golenko, the head of the Luhansk regional council, said the devolution of powers offered by the government is not enough, and called for an end to "antiterrorist operations" in the east.

The roundtable talks are part of an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)-proposed road map to calm tensions ahead of Ukraine's May 25 presidential election.

The talks included Ukraine's acting Foreign Minister Ondriy Deshchytysa and former Presidents Leonid Kuchma and Leonid Kravchuk, who chaired the meeting.

The first roundtable attended by government officials, former leaders, and lawmakers was held in Kyiv earlier this week.

Again, no separatist leaders took part.

Russian Criticism

In a May 17 statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry accused Kyiv of using the talks as a "cover" for what it called "aggressive action" in the southeast.

It said Ukrainian government troops had attempted overnight to storm the town of Slovyansk in the Donetsk region, using air support and heavy artillery.

It said some people were wounded but gave no specifics.

It accused Kyiv of carrying out "punitive actions against its own people" and called for an "immediate end to military operations" in the southeast.

The Russian Foreign Ministry also questioned how an election taking place under the "thunder of guns" could possible meet democratic norms.

The armed separatists who declared independence in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions have said they would not allow the May 25 vote to take place.

Western nations accuse Russia of fueling the unrest in Ukraine's east and have threatened further sanctions against Moscow if the vote cannot be held because of violence.

Russia denies it is behind the unrest.

In its statement on May 17, the Foreign Ministry urged Western nations to convince Ukraine's leaders to "launch real and not phony work toward national reconciliation."
With reporting by dpa, Interfax, UNIAN, and RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service
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