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Monday 22 January 2018

Ukraine march blast leaves two dead

Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko and foreign guests march in Kiev (AP)
Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko and foreign guests march in Kiev (AP)

Two people were killed and about a dozen injured in a bomb explosion at a march today in Ukraine's second-largest city.

The event in Kharkiv was marking the first anniversary of the ouster of president Viktor Yanukovych, the country's interior ministry said.

Officials said the blast was due to an "unknown explosive device" and was being considered a terrorist act. A police officer was one of the dead.

The violence comes as Ukraine continues to be riven by tension and bloodshed stemming from Mr Yanukovych's fall a year ago.

The Ukrainian parliament voted on February 22 last year to remove the Russia-friendly president following months of increasingly violent protests in the capital Kiev.

The Crimean peninsula, where residents largely regarded his downfall as a coup, was annexed by Russia a month later.

Armed rebels opposed to the new authorities in Kiev then took over large parts of two regions bordering Russia, setting off a war that has killed more than 5,600 people.

A peace plan envisioning a ceasefire and pullback of heavy weapons was signed 10 days ago but ceasefire violations continue.

Ukraine plans to begin pulling back heavy weaponry from the front lines today in accordance with the peace plan, a military spokesman said.

Ukrainian military spokesman Colonel Andriy Lysenko said that the withdrawal was to begin, but did not give further details.

Rebel spokesman Eduard Basurin said the pullback from both sides is to take place between today and March 7, but he did not specify whether rebels had made any moves yet. There was no immediate confirmation that the withdrawal had begun.

Both sides are to pull back their big guns and rockets from 15 to 43 miles away from the conflict line - depending on the weapons' size - creating a buffer zone of between 31 and 87 miles.

The buffer zone was a main element of a peace agreement worked out in marathon negotiations 10 days ago in Minsk, Belarus. It also calls for a full exchange of war captives.

Late yesterday, 139 Ukrainian soldiers and 52 rebels were exchanged; it remains unclear how many prisoners in total are on each side and when other swaps might take place.

The ceasefire that was the first element of the Minsk plan was called into effect last Sunday.

Ukraine said Russia-backed separatists violated the ceasefire a dozen times during the night with artillery and rocket attacks and an attempt to storm a Ukrainian encampment.

Mr Lysenko said one serviceman was killed and three wounded over the past day.

Explosions were heard in the main rebel-held city of Donetsk around dawn today and a rebel website says several buildings in the city were damaged by artillery.

Despite the reported violations, the level of firing appeared to be far lower than a week ago.

Among the attacks reported by the Ukrainian military was an attempt to storm positions in the village of Shyrokyne near the port city of Mariupol.

That city remains of strategic concern to Ukraine because rebel seizure of it could help establish a land corridor between mainland Russia and the Russia-annexed Crimean peninsula.

Kharkiv has considerable symbolic importance in the drama of Mr Yanukovych's ouster.

Part of the heavily-industrialised east that had been his base of support, the city was the last place he was publicly seen in Ukraine before surfacing in exile in Russia.

He had fled Kiev the evening before and in Kharkiv he gave a video interview bitterly likening the protesters against him to Nazis.

Opponents of the new Kiev regime seized some buildings in Kharkiv after his ouster but unlike the neighbouring Donetsk and Luhansk regions, the city settled down and remained in government control.

In Kiev, thousands participated in a march today commemorating the events of a year ago and honouring the more than 100 protesters who died during them.

President Petro Poroshenko led the ceremony, joined by foreign representatives including the presidents of Poland, Lithuania, Germany, Georgia and the European Union.

Press Association

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