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Ukraine

Ukraine orders militant groups to disarm

The parliament of Ukraine has passed a law that orders armed groups in the country to give up their arms. Militants that Russia sees as a threat have been a sticking point between Moscow and Kyiv.

The vote on Tuesday in Ukraine's parliament followed a night of violence in Kyiv, where three people were wounded during exchanges of gunfire. The decision came as police in Kyiv moved to shut down the base of a nationalist group seen as key to the overthrow of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich.

According to police, a man from the far-right Right Sector pulled out a gun in a restaurant and fired, wounding three.

The law forcing armed paramilitaries to disarm addresses a central Russian argument against the new government in Kyiv. Russia had claimed that Yanukovich's ouster was instigated by the paramilitaries, and that the new government was closely associated with the armed militants.

It is also hoped that the law will help lower tensions in mainly Russian-speaking parts of eastern and southern Ukraine.

"Only those in the armed forces of Ukraine, the National Guard or the state security service (SBU) may carry arms," acting president Oleksander Turchinov said Tuesday. "If they do not belong to the army, the National Guard or the police, they are saboteurs who are working against Ukraine."

NATO summit under way

Ukraine's decision is likely to be welcomed by attendees at a NATO conference in Brussels on Tuesday, especially after Russia's claim on Monday that it had begun pulling troops back from its border with Ukraine, which has not yet been verified.

"Unfortunately I cannot confirm that Russia is withdrawing its troops; this is not what we have seen," said NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

However, Ukraine also said it would welcome the opportunity to host war games on its own soil with NATO members, including the United States - a move not likely to be met with approval in Moscow.

At a meeting of the Weimar Triangle - the foreign ministers of France, Germany, and Poland - the ministers issued a joint statement calling on Kyiv to "accelerate the ongoing process of disarmament, re-establish the state monopoly on the use of force as well as distance itself from extremist groups."

Germany's Frank-Walter Steinmeier - who was joined by France's France's Laurent Fabius and Radek Sikorski of Poland - said there were "small signs of de-escalation" between Ukraine and Russia.

mz/jr (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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