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Ukraine

OSCE monitors touch down in Berlin as Odessa answers sought

Seven European military observers have landed in Berlin, after pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine released them from captivity. In Ukraine, authorities have announced a period of mourning for the dead in Odessa.

OSCE observers land in Berlin after hostage ordeal

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) observer team touched down at Berlin Tegel airport on Saturday evening, greeted by German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen and her counterparts from the Czech Republic and Denmark.

Von der Leyen said she was "filled with great relief" that the men had "landed here safe and well," also expressing her gratefulness for the international mediation that helped facilitate their release.

After eight days in captivity, held by pro-Russian separatists near the flashpoint city of Slovyansk, the seven soldiers were released on Saturday morning following direct intervention from a Kremlin envoy, Vladimir Lukin.

One goal of Ukraine's military offensive on Slovyansk, which began in earnest on Friday morning, was to force the separatists to free the OSCE team.

On their last night in captivity, the Friday evening, German Colonel Axel Schneider said the observers were "still in the thick of the fire."

"We are all very, very happy. We have seen our families again. Last night, we weren't really thinking along those lines," Schneider said. The observers hailed from Germany, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Poland and Sweden; they were taken hostage along with five Ukrainian guides.

Period of mourning after Odessa

Ukraine's interim President Oleksandr Turchynov on Saturday announced a period of mourning for the more than 40 people killed - mostly pro-Russian separatists - in fighting in Odessa on Friday.

Women bring flowers in memory of people killed in recent street battles outside a trade union building, where a deadly fire occurred, in Odessa, May 3, 2014. (Photo via REUTERS/Yevgeny Volokin)

Memorials were held for the dead in Odessa on Saturday

The street clashes ended with a blaze at a trade union building, apparently after firebombs were thrown inside. Separatists had taken shelter inside after being pushed off the streets.

Fueled mostly by the bloodshed in Odessa, Friday was the deadliest day in Ukraine since deposed President Viktor Yanukovych fled the country in February.

Ukraine's military efforts to reclaim towns like Slovyansk and Kramatorsk continued despite Turchynov's announcement.

"The EU urges everyone to exercise the utmost restraint and not to exploit this [Odessa] tragedy to fuel more hatred, division and senseless violence," EU current affairs chief Catherine Ashton said in a statement, calling for an immediate "independent investigation" into the fire.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier similarly said: "The tragedy in Odessa must be a wake-up call! Violence only fosters retaliation." Steinmeier and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, spoke on the phone on Saturday. Russia's foreign ministry said that the pair agreed to work towards negotiations between the interim government in Kyiv and separatist forces.

US and Russia still talking

The US and Russia also continued their dialog on Saturday, after a tense UN Security Council hearing on Friday night - called by Russia in response to the military attack on Slovyansk.

More fighting, casualties in Ukraine

The foreign ministry in Moscow issued a statement calling on the United States to "use all of its influence to force" the interim government in Kyiv to "halt military operations in the southeast, pull back its troops and free protesters."

Secretary of State John Kerry, in a separate telephone conversation with Lavrov, said: "It is important for Russia to withdraw support for the separatists" and start "to de-escalate the situation. We will both advance ideas about how to do that without any promises of what those possibilities may produce."

msh/lw (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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