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Ukraine

Ukraine calls for cease-fire, prepares detailed peace plan for separatists

Ukraine's President is proposing a cease-fire with separatist rebels in the east of the country. But he said the border had first to be secured.

Meeting with Ukraine's National Security Council in Kyiv, President Petro Poroshenko said once the frontier with Russia was secure, a temporary cease-fire should be observed and efforts made to agree on a peace plan. The president said he had given government forces the task of regaining full control of Ukraine's eastern border with Russia this week.

"Declaring a cease-fire while the border is open would be irresponsible," Poroshenko said on Monday.

The Interfax news agency reported that "a cease-fire will be proposed as the beginning of [the] implementation of the president's peace plan."

Poroshenko said his proposals included constitutional changes to allow more decentralization of power. The new president had outlined his proposals in his inaugural address on June 7. He said then he was willing to negotiate and offer amnesty to fighters who did not have "blood on their hands." He also said he would protect the use of the Russian language and propose a jobs program.

Central bank branch seized

Since Russia's annexation of the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, pro-Russian separatists in regions around Luhansk and Donetsk have seized government buildings, held referendums and declared independence. More than 300 people have died in on-going fighting, including 49 service personnel on board a Ukrainian transport plane shot down on Saturday near Luhansk.

In Donetsk on Monday, pro-Russian separatists seized the city's branch of the National Bank of Ukraine. Control of the central bank branch would give the separatist access to tax funds. No casualties were reported.

"We have been preparing this for more than a month," a rebel named Oleksandr Matyushyn told AFP as five separatist gunmen stood guard at its main entrance and bank staff filed out of the building. "We want the tax revenues to stay here instead of going to Kiev," he added.

Ukraine accuses Russia of backing the separatists in eastern Ukraine, although Russia denies the allegations.

Earlier on Monday, Russia's state controlled Gazprom announced Ukraine must pre-pay for natural gas deliveries after the two sides had failed to come to an agreement about previous debts and the price for future supplies.

jm/slk (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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