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Ukraine

Ukraine government extends ceasefire 72 hours, presidency says

Ukraine has extended a truce with pro-Russian separatist rebels in the east of the country for at least 72 hours, according to the presidency. The decision came after Poroshenko returned from an EU summit in Brussels.

Ukraine ceasefire extended

The Ukraine government extended the ceasefire from Friday night at 10:00 p.m. (1900 UTC) until June 30, according to the presidential website. Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko said earlier Friday while in Brussels, where he signed a free trade agreement with the European Union, that he would make a decision about the ceasefire before it was due to run out.

Pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine's restive east also said they were ready to prolong the ceasefire until at least Monday.

"Poroshenko prolonged the ceasefire until June 30. We will also cease fire in this period," said Alexander Borodai, a leader of the self-proclaimed "Donetsk People's Republic," the Interfax news agency reported earlier Friday.

European leaders back extension

German Chancellor Angela Merkel had earlier hinted at a ceasefire extension, while adding that if Russia did not move to stabilize the situation in Ukraine, "we are also ready to take more far-reaching measures."

EU leaders went as far as to outline potential plans for further sanctions against Russia on Friday, but held back from imposing them until Monday.

French President Francois Hollande said he would discuss developments in Russia in a conference call with Merkel and President Vladimir Putin.

Putin himself had lobbied for a ceasefire extension, saying that securing it long-term was "a necessary condition for substantive talks between the authorities in Kyiv and representatives of the southeastern regions."

Poroshenko was at the EU summit in Brussels on what he called "maybe the most important day for my country after independence" from the Soviet Union in 1991. The president signed an EU Association Agreement for Ukraine, which can serve as an early step on the road to EU accession. Moldova and Georgia signed similar deals with the EU. Former President Viktor Yanukovych's decision not to sign the EU agreement as planned last November helped set off the protests that led to a change of government in Kyiv.

dr/av (AFP, dpa, Reuters, AP)

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