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Ukraine

Ukraine mourns plane victims, awaits last-minute gas talks with Russia

The Ukrainian president has declared a day of mourning for those on board the military plane shot down in the east. Meanwhile, natural gas talks are to resume with Russia ahead of Kyiv’s Monday deadline to pay its bills.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko declared Sunday a day of mourning for the victims of the single deadliest attack on the country's military. The previous day pro-Russian separatists shot down a Ukrainian military plane flying near Luhansk, killing 49 people.

"All those involved in cynical acts of terrorism of this magnitude must be punished," Poroshenko said on Saturday in response to the attack. "Ukraine needs peace. However, the terrorists will receive an adequate response."

Poroshenko had met with his defense and security chiefs to discuss a response, but no details from the meeting were released.

The escalation in the crisis prompted expressions of concern from international leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel. She and her French counterpart, President Francois Hollande, conveyed their "grave concern" in a telephone call to Russian President Vladimir Putin late Saturday. They reportedly urged him to help create "the conditions to de-escalate the situation on the ground."

Gas talks to resume

With the June 16 deadline looming, Ukrainian and Russian officials planned to meet on Sunday to find a solution for Kyiv's natural gas bill of more than $4 billion (2.95 billion euros).

Last minute attempts to negotiate have faltered in recent days with Russia threatening to stop its natural gas supply to Ukraine if the country doesn't pay nearly $2 billion of its debt by Monday. Curbing natural gas shipments to the Eastern European country could also disrupt the EU's supply, which flows through Ukraine.

On Friday, Kyiv said it was ready to accept a compromise price for Russian natural gas for the next 18 months. Russia rejected that proposal and also expressed an unwillingness to meet with Ukrainian officials again before the Monday deadline.

Both sides did, in fact, resume talks the next day, along with European Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger, in Kyiv. However, they did not appear to make progress.

"Each side explained its position today. No solution was found. Therefore, in line with a proposal by Commissioner Oettinger, the talks will continue [on Sunday]," Ukrainian Energy Minister Yuri Prodan told reporters.

Following the ouster in February of Ukraine's pro-Moscow leader, Viktor Yanukovych, Russia nearly doubled the price of 1,000 cubic meters of natural gas to $485. Kyiv is asking for Moscow to lower the price to $268.50, which Russia had offered Yanukovych when he shelved an association agreement with the EU late last year.

kms/slk (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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