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Ukrainians in east fault Kiev in talks

Say legitimate grievances have been ignored

Armed pro-Russian militants move to positions on Saturday during fighting against Ukrainian soldiers near the town of Slovyansk.

Maxim Shipenkov/EPA

Armed pro-Russian militants move to positions on Saturday during fighting against Ukrainian soldiers near the town of Slovyansk.

KIEV — Lawmakers and officials from eastern Ukraine on Saturday poured criticism on the fledging central government, accusing it of ignoring legitimate grievances of the regions which have been overrun by pro-Russia militia fighting for independence.

One eastern leader said last weekend’s unofficial referendum in favor of independence ‘‘expressed the will of the people.’’

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The criticism came in the second round of European-brokered talks intended to resolve the country’s worst crisis since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. The talks ended without a settlement and are expected to resume Wednesday in the central city of Cherkasy.

Ukraine’s caretaker government came to power in February after the ouster of Kremlin-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych after months of protests in Kiev.

Moscow and many in Ukraine’s east have accused the new government of intending to trample the rights of eastern Ukraine’s Russian-speakers.

On Saturday, politicians from the east implored the government to believe that — apart from the pro-Russia gunmen — a large sector of the population had lost hope in the interim administration in Kiev.

The second round of talks followed hours of sustained gunfire throughout the night near the eastern city of Slovyansk, the stronghold of pro-Russia fighters, after forces loyal to the Kiev government moved in to protect a television tower.

‘The referendum . . . has expressed the will of the people, which cannot be discounted.’

Valery Holenko, Luhansk regional government 
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Separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions held hastily arranged referenda last weekend and declared independence following the vote, which went in favor of sovereignty.

The round-table talks in the eastern city of Kharkiv did not include any of the insurgents, whom Kiev describes as terrorists. The insurgents say they are willing to discuss only the withdrawal of Ukrainian troops and the recognition of the independence of the regions.

‘‘The referendum doesn’t have any legal consequences,’’ said Valery Holenko, chairman of the Luhansk regional government. ‘‘But it has expressed the will of the people, which cannot be discounted.’’

Holenko said the devolution of powers that the government is offering was no longer enough and that as a first step in appeasing eastern Ukrainians the government has to stop its ‘‘antiterrorist operation’’ in the east.

Acting Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk called on the eastern leaders to resist the armed men and support the government’s efforts to devolve powers to the regions.

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