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Ukraine

Merkel and Obama talk Ukraine, push for peace talks

The leaders of Germany and the United States have agreed to continue pressuring Russia to de-escalate the situation in eastern Ukraine. The warring sides are being urged to agree to a new ceasefire.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US President Barack Obama spoke on the phone late on Thursday on how to move peace negotiations in Ukraine forward.

It comes shortly before Saturday's deadline for defining the conditions of a ceasefire between pro-Moscow rebels and Kyiv - a target agreed to earlier this week in a Berlin meeting between the foreign ministers of Germany, Ukraine, Russia and France. The previous 10-day shaky ceasefire ended on Monday.

Earlier on Thursday, Merkel and French President Francois Hollande asked for Russian President Vladimir Putin's help in organizing the so-called Contact Group meeting.

Merkel's office said she and Obama agreed on the "importance of a rapid ceasefire observed by both sides."

"Russia must first contribute by ensuring that the separatists in eastern Ukraine uphold the ceasefire," the German account of the call said.

The White House said the pair flagged the possibility of further costs being levied on Russia if it didn't cooperate.

"They stressed that Russia must take immediate steps to de-escalate the conflict in eastern Ukraine. The president and the chancellor agreed that the United States and Europe should take further coordinated measures to impose costs on Russia if it does not take steps toward de-escalation in short order," the White House said.

The European Union, United States and Ukraine believe Russia to be providing financial and logistical support to the separatist movement in eastern Ukraine.

Fighting in eastern Ukraine has claimed more than 440 lives and displaced thousands since it began roughly 12 weeks ago.

Ukraine shakes up military leadership

Ukraine's new western-backed president, Petro Poroshenko, announced a major shake up of the country's military leadership on Thursday, appointing a new defense minister and top general.

The Ukrainian leader appointed Col. Gen. Valery Heletey as defense minister who will replace Mikhailo Koval.

Lt. Gen. Viktor Muzhenko was named chief of the military's general staff.

Poroshenko also angrily denounced years of army corruption that has left forces unable to effectively tackle the well armed insurgency in the east.

"Today the revival of the army is starting from scratch, an army which is capable of fighting and winning," Poroshenko said in parliament.

His comments came as fighting continued to rage in the east. Nine Ukrainian guards were injured Thursday when rebels shelled the strategically important Dolzhansky border between Ukraine and Russia.

jr/jlw (AP, Reuters, AFP)

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