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Ukraine

Germany's Steinmeier seeks round-table debate in Ukraine

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is expected in Kyiv to help shape political solutions to the Ukraine crisis. Steinmeier said he might even travel to eastern Ukraine on a bridge-building mission.

Steinmeier traveled to Kyiv on Tuesday to support a "national dialogue" ahead of presidential elections, slated for May 25.

The German politician, who was to meet Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk as part of the one-day visit, has said it is also likely he will visit largely pro-Russian eastern Ukraine, to press for the different sides to come to some agreement ahead of the poll.

"We all agree that the holding of the presidential election will be central for further developments," said Steinmeier ahead of the visit. Despite his message of conciliation, Steinmeier warned that action might be taken against Russia if conditions were not correct for the election, amid perception that Moscow has been stoking separatist sentiments in the east.

"We have to be prepared for what to do if someone prevents the elections on May 25," said Steinmeier. "It that is going to happen ... then we have to think about further sanctions."

Steinmeier's spokesman Martin Schaefer said the trip was aimed at supporting a national "round table" dialogue under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

Guarded offer of talks

Acting Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk has said he will take part in a dialogue with the separatist opposition in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, where separatists claimed an overwhelming victory and said they would not take part in the presidential election. However, Yatsenyuk gave no specifics and did not comment on the referenda.

Heading to a meeting of EU foreign ministers on Monday, Steinmeier told reporters he considered the swiftly-organized plebiscites in both regions to be "illegal."

The European Union expanded sanctions on Monday in protest at Russia's alleged interference in Ukraine, citing "the absence of any steps towards de-escalation." Two firms in Crimea that were nationalized by Russia following Moscow's annexation of the Black Sea peninsula are to be hit with asset freezes. Meanwhile there were travel bans and asset freezes for 13 people, including a top aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the commander of Russia's paratroopers.

rc / crh (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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