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Ukraine set to ratify EU pact and offer rebels self-rule

AFP / Anatoli Stepanov | Ukrainian soldiers patrol near the eastern city of Donetsk

Ukraine is set Tuesday to ratify a watered-down EU agreement and offer limited self-rule to parts of the separatist east as it tries to turn the page on the bloodiest chapter of its post-Soviet history.

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Lawmakers in the Ukrainian and European parliaments are scheduled to sign the 1,200-page political and economic association agreement during a live video hookup from 10am GMT.

But the historic occasion has been muted by both sides' decision to bow to Russian pressure and delay for two years the free trade rules that pulled Ukraine out of a rival union being built by Moscow.

The rejection of the same deal by Kremlin-backed president Viktor Yanukovich in November 2013 triggered the bloody chain of events that led to his February ouster and Russia's subsequent seizure of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula.

The defiant decision by Kiev's new pro-Western leaders to go ahead with the EU deal saw Moscow cut off its neighbour's supply of Russian gas and allegedly orchestrate a separatist revolt in the Russian-speaking east that has now claimed more than 2,700 lives.

Russia denies it is involved in the separatist rebellion. But that has not spared Moscow from waves of punishing Western sanctions that have left President Vladimir Putin increasingly isolated and acting less predictably than at any stage of his dominant 15-year reign.

An EU-mediated truce Kiev and Moscow clinched on September 5 has offered the first significant glimmer of hope that the five-month crisis may at last be abating and allowing East-West tensions to thaw.

But the ceasefire has been repeatedly broken, with six civilians and an unconfirmed number of soldiers killed in a new rebel advance towards the airport near their main eastern stronghold of Donetsk.

Concessions to separatists

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko intends to submit to parliament Tuesday a peace package that offers three years of limited self-rule to parts of the rebel-held territory.

It also crucially guarantees the right for Russian to be spoken in all state institutions – a particularly sensitive issue for Russian-speaking separatists.

The Ukrainian leader argued on Monday that his plan offers Kiev the best way out of crisis because it guarantees "the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of our state".

Parliament is now dominated by government supporters and the measures are likely to pass.

But some political leaders and especially members of right wing groups that played a small but instrumental role in protests that forced out the old regime have questioned whether Poroshenko is ceding too much to Moscow.

Media accounts of the broad-ranging proposal say it allows local legislatures to set up their own police forces and name judges and prosecutors.

Snap local polls on November 9 will establish new councils in the areas in Ukraine's vital coal and steel belt that will seemingly not be accountable to Kiev in any way.

The measures also reportedly protect from criminal prosecution "participants of events in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions" – a measure that appears to apply to both the insurgents and Ukrainian government troops.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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