20 die in eastern Ukraine clashes


More than 20 people were reported killed in fresh fighting in eastern Ukraine on Friday, amid signs that efforts to set up a new round of peace talks had failed.wpid-clashes-1.jpg

Militia leaders in the separatist stronghold of Donetsk said that at least 12 civilians were killed by artillery strikes in the city, including five people in or near a trolleybus and another five waiting at a distribution point for humanitarian aid, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported.

Outside the rebel-held districts of the Donetsk region, another seven civilians were killed and 10 injured over the past 24 hours, according to Vyacheslav Abroskin, the police chief for the Kiev-loyal regional government.

Ukraine’s Security Council said in Kiev that five soldiers were killed and 23 injured in fighting over the same period.

The fighting was centred around Debaltseve, a government-held strategic rail hub inside separatist-controlled territory that is linked by a single road to government-controlled districts.

The Donetsk separatists said they had almost encircled Ukrainian troops there and taken the neighbouring town of Vuhlehirsk under their control.

The casualty figures come as fresh peace talks are planned in Minsk later in the day.

However, the separatists’ envoys for the talks said that Ukraine had foiled the talks and that they will leave the Belarusian capital, the Interfax news agency reported.

Kiev is not fit to negotiate because it cannot control its batallions and stop them from firing into residential areas,” Donetsk envoy Denis Pushilin was quoted as saying.

Ukraine had said earlier that consultations about the talks’ format were ongoing.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Yelena Zerkal said in Kiev that only a preliminary agreement had been reached to hold the meeting on Friday or Saturday, the Interfax Ukraine news agency reported.

The talks were announced Thursday after a meeting of the so-called Ukraine contact group with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

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