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Ukraine president calls for new anti-rebel offensive as crisis deal falters

Reuters | Wednesday, Apr 23, 2014

Ukraine's acting president, Oleksander Turchinov, called on Tuesday for government forces to relaunch an offensive against pro-Russian rebels after a local politician from his own party was found dead with signs of torture.

KIEV/MOSCOW - Ukraine's acting president, Oleksander Turchinov, called on Tuesday for government forces to relaunch an offensive against pro-Russian rebels after a local politician from his own party was found dead with signs of torture.

Kiev's first push failed last week to retake one of the towns in the mainly Russian-speaking east occupied by the separatists, and its military has largely suspended operations since the United States, Russia, Ukraine and European Union signed a deal in Geneva last week intended to calm the crisis.

But the agreement is already in trouble, with Washington and Moscow putting the onus on each other on Tuesday to ensure that it is implemented, including a stipulation that the rebels must disarm and leave the government buildings they have occupied.

In an appeal that may complicate European efforts to mediate the crisis, Turchinov said two "brutally tortured" bodies had been found near Slaviansk, the objective of the failed Ukrainian army offensive. One was that of Volodymyr Rybak, a member of Turchinov's Batkivshchyna party, who had recently been abducted by "terrorists", he said in a statement.

"These crimes are being carried out with the full support and indulgence of the Russian Federation," he said. "I call on the security agencies to relaunch and carry out effective anti-terrorist measures, with the aim of protecting Ukrainian citizens living in eastern Ukraine from terrorists."

Police said the body of a man who suffered a violent death had been found in a river. It resembled Rybak, a local councillor in the town of Horlivka, near the regional capital of Donetsk, but formal identification would need further work, they added.

Batkivshchyna is led by Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister who is running in a presidential election scheduled for May 25.

Ukraine's poorly resourced forces had previously shown little sign of taking on the gunmen who started occupying towns and public buildings two weeks ago. Turchinov's call may not lead to much more action but could fuel recriminations between Moscow and Kiev about who is failing to honour the deal.

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