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Ukraine

Ukraine forces retake Mariupol city hall, reports say

Local media in Ukraine have reported that security forces have retaken the city hall in the eastern port of Mariupol. It comes as international diplomatic efforts to end the crisis continue.

Ukrainian media said on Wednesday that security forces had "liberated" the city hall in Mariupol, near the Russian border.

The country's Channel 5 television station reported the Ukrainian National Guard had forced the rebels inside the building onto the streets, where they blocked the main throughfare and set tires and a trolleybus on fire. Traffic was able to move again later in the morning.

Ukrainian military have advanced on positions held by pro-Russian separatists in the country's east, beginning an offensive in Slovyansk last week. On Monday, at least 30 separatists were killed there, according to Ukraine's interior minister, Arsen Avakov.

It comes a day after foreign ministers met in Vienna on Tuesday to discuss the ongoing crisis. Both Ukraine and Russia said they were open to the idea of another round of peace negotiations in Geneva, but Russia insisted the Ukrainian opposition should also be present, to which the government in Kyiv is vehemently opposed.

Ukraine's interim foreign minister, Andriy Deshchytsia, also said Russia would need to recognize upcoming presidential elections on May 25, and help curb separatist movement in eastern Ukraine, before more negotiations could go ahead.

On Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin was to meet with his Swiss counterpart, President Didier Burkhalter, who is also current chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The pair was due to meet in Moscow.

Ahead of the talks, the OSCE said hostilities in Ukraine needed to end before the elections could take place.

"We need a ceasefire for the election," Burkhalter said.

US Secretary of State John Kerry warned Moscow on Tuesday the US would impose more sanctions aimed at Russia if it disrupted the polls.

He also criticized separatists' efforts to hold a referendum in the eastern Ukrainian cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, saying it would "further divide Ukraine."

Ukraine receives first slice of aid

On Wednesday, Ukraine's central bank said it had received the first part of an aid package from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The initial $3.19 billion (2.29 billion euros) is part of an overall $17 billion (12.2 billion euros) package from the IMF. Kyiv is expected to use the first tranche to pay off an outstanding debt to Russia's state-owned gas firm, Gazprom, which has threatened to cut off supplies if Ukraine didn't pay its outstanding bills.

jr/kms (Reuters, AFP, AP)

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