UK & World News
Ukrainian Self-Rule 'Would Destroy Country'
Ukraine's acting president has warned people in the east of the country risk stepping "into the abyss" by voting for self-rule in a poll widely considered illegal.
Speaking ahead of an independence referendum planned for eastern regions on Sunday, Oleksander Turchinov said: "Those who stand for self-rule do not understand it would mean complete destruction of the economy, social programmes and life in general for the majority of the population."
Separatists said they were pressing ahead with the poll, despite a request from Russian President Vladimir Putin to call it off.
The vote, which is not recognised by Ukraine's government or the West, has been organised on a largely ad-hoc basis with no clear control of authenticity of ballot papers or voter lists.
Mr Turchinov's comments came as France and Germany called on Russia to prove it had withdrawn its forces from the Ukrainian border.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande issued a joint statement saying there needed to be a "visible" reduction in troops close to the crisis-hit country.
Earlier this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country's forces had moved back to training bases, although the White House and Nato both said they had seen no movement.
The joint statement, issued after a meeting in Stralsund, Germany, also called on Ukrainian security forces to "abstain from taking offensive actions" before the start of presidential elections.
Mrs Merkel said Mr Putin "must send more signals of de-escalation" so the May 25 poll can go ahead.
Ukraine's security forces have been conducting an operation to remove separatist militia from entrenched positions in and around a number of cities in the east of the country.
Meanwhile, the US and Europe have denounced Mr Putin's first visit to Crimea since Russia took control from Ukraine in March.
As Mr Putin arrived in Sevastopol on Friday to take part in celebrations to mark the Soviet victory over the Nazis in World War Two, there were further deadly clashes in eastern Ukraine.
Speaking at the military parade, Mr Putin said: "I am sure that 2014 will go into the annals of our whole country as the year when the nations living here firmly decided to be together with Russia, affirming fidelity to the historical truth and the memory of our ancestors."
He also told the West to respect Russia's interests, including its right to self-determination.
US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki called on Russia to take steps "in accordance with its Geneva commitments" to diffuse escalating tensions in eastern Ukraine.
In the southeastern port city of Mariupol, seven people died on Friday as Ukrainian troops used armoured vehicles and large-calibre weapons as they tried to take control of an occupied police headquarters.