Ukrainian rebel regions postpone elections to next year

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Two rebel-held regions in eastern Ukraine announced Tuesday that they will postpone controversial local elections until next year, Russian state news agency TASS reported.

The rebel governments in Donetsk and Luhansk had planned to hold elections on October 18 and November 1, respectively. Regular regional elections in Ukraine are scheduled for October 25.

“We report the agreement of the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic to reschedule the elections to next year,” rebel represenatatives Denis Pushilin and Vladislav Deinego said in a statement.

The announcement came as the envoys attended a contact group meeting in Minsk on resolving the Ukraine crisis. The talks were expected to focus on Ukraine’s central government possibly granting more autonomy to the rebel-held regions and an amnesty for the separatists.

French President Francois Hollande welcomed the announcement, saying in a statement released by the Elysee Palace that the decision was the result of negotiations in Paris last week.

“This permits the continued implementation of the Minsk accord, which is the only solution for a peaceful settlement to the situation in Ukraine,” Hollande said in the statement.

Last week Hollande said – after a meeting with the leaders of Ukraine, Germany and Russia – that elections in rebel-held parts of Ukraine should be postponed until observers could ensure that they would proceed legally.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters at the time that Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to work towards holding the elections in accordance with Ukrainian law.

More than 8,000 people have been killed in the Ukraine conflict, which broke out in spring last year shortly after Ukraine ousted its pro-Russian president amid mass protests calling for closer ties with the West.

Russia has said it is using its influence over the rebels to push for peace in the region. Ukraine has accused Russia of providing weapons and troops to the rebel forces. Russia denies those accusations.

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