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Europe

Hollande in Minsk for four-way talks as Ukraine fighting escalates

media The representative of pro-Russian rebels in Donetsk, Denis Pushilin (R) in Minsk Reuters/Vasily Fedosenko

French President François Hollande was to join the German, Russian and Ukrainian leaders in Minsk on Wednesday morning for “last chance” talks for peace in eastern Ukraine. As fighting cost 37 lives on Tuesday, French officials said he wanted to exhaust every possibility to for ending the conflict.

Hollande was to join German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in the Belarus capital for the first full summit in the “Normandy” format, named after the brief meeting the four held during celebrations of the World War II Normandy landings last year.

Hollande wants to “give every opportunity to obtaining a result even though the situation on the ground has got worse again”, French officials said on Tuesday.

At least 37 people died in fighting on Tuesday, 15 of them killed by rebel mortar fire on the eastern town of Kramortsk, which has been held by government troops since July and has not been attacked since.

Ukrainian troops launched a counter-offensive in the south, retaking three villages near the port of Marioupol.

Poroshenko declared the talks “one of the last chances to establish an unconditional ceasefire and the withdrawal of heavy weapons”, while German Foreign Affairs Minister Walter Steinmeier said there were no guarantees of success.

On Tuesday pro-Russian separatists put their proposals to Kiev’s representatives and then to the contact group, comprising representatives of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Russia and Ukraine.

US President Barack Obama talked by phone to Putin, whom the West accuses of backing and arming the rebels, and Poroshenko.
 

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