Sat, Nov 22, 2014 - Page 6 News List

Biden to meet Kiev leaders as death toll rises

AFP, KIEV

Firefighters yesterday tackle a blaze after shelling destroyed several houses in the district of Kuibishevskiy near the airport in the flashpoint eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk.

Photo: AFP

US Vice President Joe Biden was to meet Ukraine’s leaders yesterday on the first anniversary of the protests that toppled the former pro-Kremlin regime, with Kiev hoping for an announcement on further US assistance.

Almost 1,000 people have been killed in Ukraine since a truce came into effect in September, an average of 13 people a day, the UN said on Thursday, as the conflict in the east of the country drags on.

Biden, who arrived in Kiev on Thursday, is the latest high-profile Western politician to visit in the hope of shoring up the bullet-riddled ceasefire.

He was due to meet Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk later yesterday.

On the eve of those talks, Yatsenyuk said he hoped for an announcement on further US assistance to Ukraine during Biden’s visit following a US$53 million package announced in September that included US$46 million of security assistance.

However, Russia warned against the US arming Ukrainian forces, with the Russian National Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev saying the conflict in eastern Ukraine “will grow” if this happened.

Last year’s Maidan protests, on Kiev’s main square, for closer ties with Europe led to the overthrow of then-president Viktor Yanukovych, prompting Russia to seize Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and eventually triggering unrest in the east.

Pro-Moscow separatist rebel and Ukrainian forces are fighting a drawn-out battle for territory despite the ceasefire.

The Kremlin denies Western and Ukrainian accusations that it is backing the rebels with troops and military equipment, but diplomatic relations have plunged to a low not seen since the Cold War over the seven-month conflict.

In an interview with Kiev’s the Day newspaper published on Thursday, Biden said there was “no military solution to this crisis” and accused Russia of “interfering in the affairs of a sovereign state.”

“I will be bringing a strong message of support to the Ukrainian people and government, about which I will have more to say when I am in Kiev,” he said.

The UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine put the number of dead at 957 between Sept. 5, when the ceasefire was signed, and Nov. 18.

“The list of victims keeps growing. Civilians, including women, children, minorities and a range of vulnerable individuals and groups continue to suffer the consequences of the political stalemate in Ukraine,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in a statement.

Counting the 298 people who died in the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine in July, the overall toll since mid-April, when fighting started, stood at 4,317 deaths as of Tuesday.

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