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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has ruled out holding fresh talks in Geneva to defuse the Ukraine crisis, unless pro-Russian opposition groups are involved.

Sergei Lavrov added there was no point as an April accord between the US, EU and Russia had not been implemented.

He spoke after a Council of Europe meeting which was expected to support Ukraine’s plans for a May 25 election.

But Sergei Lavrov called an election “unusual” at a time when the army was being used against the population.

Ukrainian acting Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsia said Ukraine was ready to back a new round of talks in Geneva as long as Moscow supported presidential elections.

“If Russia is ready to commit itself to support these elections and to eliminate this threat and eliminate its support for the extremist elements in Ukraine, we are ready to have such a round of meetings,” he said at a news conference.

Andriy Deshchytsia later appealed for international observers to be sent to Ukraine to monitor the elections on May 25.

“[We] also asked the partners to make everything possible to eliminate the external threats and provocations supported by Russia in Ukraine to allow these elections to take place in a free and democratic way,” he added.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has ruled out holding fresh talks in Geneva to defuse the Ukraine crisis

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has ruled out holding fresh talks in Geneva to defuse the Ukraine crisis

OSCE Chairman Didier Burkhalter said there should be a ceasefire in Ukraine ahead of the May presidential election – as holding it is very difficult in the current situation, the AFP news agency reports.

In recent days, security forces have launched a crackdown on pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country, triggering clashes outside the town of Sloviansk.

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said on Tuesday that four soldiers and an estimated 30 separatists had been killed in the “anti-terrorism operation”.

He said that up to 800 well-trained militants armed with large-calibre weapons and mortars were hiding among civilians in the town, where government buildings have been seized and checkpoints set up.

A Russia Today reporter in Sloviansk said residents were stockpiling food and there were barricades on almost every road.

In the southern port of Mariupol, where the city council building was seized a week ago by pro-Russia militants, there were reports of gunfire near a military base close to the city’s airport, local media reported.

Tyres were also set on fire in the city centre, giving off thick smoke, they said.

Meanwhile, many flights in and out of Donetsk were suspended. The Ukrainian aviation authorities gave no reason for the move.

New checkpoints were earlier set up around Kiev. The interior ministry said it wanted to prevent the movement of weapons and explosives.

The authorities also attempted to re-establish control over Odessa, with Interim President Oleksandr Turchynov dismissing the acting head of the regional administration, Volodymyr Nemyrovskyy.

Forty-six people died in the Black Sea city on Friday in a fire at an official building and fighting between pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian protesters.

At a news conference in Vienna on Tuesday, Sergei Lavrov said holding further international talks on Ukraine as some have suggested would be like “going round in circles”.

Instead, he explained, the government in Kiev and their Western backers needed to implement the series of steps to resolve the crisis that they had agreed in Geneva on April 17.

Under the agreement, all parties, including the separatists in eastern Ukraine, were to “refrain from violence, intimidation and provocative acts”. It also said those occupying buildings would have to leave them and be disarmed in return for an amnesty.

They also agreed to an inclusive constitutional process that would include the establishment of a broad national dialogue and consideration of proposed amendments.

Sergei Lavrov said he was not against a follow-up meeting to discuss the accord, but that it would not “have any added value” unless representatives of the separatists were invited.

The May 25 presidential election was called after pro-Kremlin President Viktor Yanukovych was overthrown by pro-Western protesters in February.

“Scheduling an election during a time when the army is being used against a part of the population is not conventional – it’s not Afghanistan,” Sergei Lavrov noted.

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Syrian government and opposition representatives have met briefly face to face in Geneva in what is being hailed a small but significant step in talks aimed at “saving Syria”.

The initial gathering in Geneva lasted half an hour mediated by the UN’s Lakhdar Brahimi.

Delegates in Geneva are aiming at small concessions, not a full peace deal.

“Ending terrorism and violence” is the top priority, Syrian officials say. They insist it is too early to discuss President Bashar al-Assad’s position.

The two delegations filed in through separate doors into one room in the UN Geneva Headquarters, and sat down at the same U-shaped table, but said nothing to each other.

Lakhdar Brahimi spoke for half an hour. Then they all filed out again.

Ahead of the next face-to-face meeting, Lakhdar Brahimi will shuttle between the delegations, trying to build confidence with small achievements like localized ceasefires, release of detainees and the opening of humanitarian corridors.

There is hope that minor progress will pave the way for the discussion of wider issues like political transition next week, although there has been no sign of common ground on this so far.

Syrian government delegation has said the main issue of the Geneva talks is finding a solution to foreign-backed terrorism

Syrian government delegation has said the main issue of the Geneva talks is finding a solution to foreign-backed terrorism

Shortly after the initial meeting, the chief of staff to the leader of Syria’s National Coalition, Monzer Akbik, claimed that the transition process had started in earnest.

“Today we had the chance to speak directly to regime… You know dictators usually, they don’t like to listen. But today they had to listen to us and to the voice of the Syrian people that they want transition from dictatorship to democracy.”

However Syria’s Ambassador to the UN Bashar Jafari – part of the government delegation – said it was “too early” to talk of President Bashar al-Assad stepping down and that the issue was “not the priority”.

“Item number one should be putting an end to the terrorism and to the violence,” he said.

The envoy said the common ground between the parties “should be that we should talk about everything, everything, without any selectivity… and no preconditions and no hidden agendas”.

But he accused the coalition delegation of harboring “personal hatreds towards the government for whatever reasons”.

The opposition and government are fundamentally divided over the aims of the conference.

The government delegation has said the main issue of the talks is finding a solution to foreign-backed “terrorism”, by which it means the whole of the armed opposition.

The opposition, however, had insisted that the regime commit in writing to the 2012 Geneva I communiqué, which called for a transition process.

The communiqué urged Syria to form a transitional governing authority that “could include members of the present government and the opposition and other groups”.

Syria’s civil conflict has claimed well over 100,000 lives since it began in 2011.

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