Four-way Ukraine talks announced as `hostages` freed
Kiev: Ukraine said on Wednesday that pro-Russian militants had freed 56 "hostages" after US and EU diplomats set up their first direct talks with Moscow and Kiev aimed at resolving the worst East-West standoff since the Cold War.
Ukraine`s SBU security service said the group walked free from its headquarters in Lugansk after separatists seized the building and other key government offices at the weekend in the mainly Russian-speaking eastern industrial heartland.
The separatist raids have drawn Western charges that Russia -- its troops already massed along Ukraine`s border in response to its ouster of a Moscow-backed regime -- is backing the separatists and plotting to grab more territory after annexing Crimea last month.
But US and EU diplomats also crucially agreed with Moscow that it was time to deescalate the worst European security crisis in decades by setting up a four-way round of negotiations involving Kiev next week.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton`s office confirmed she would meet US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov along with his Ukrainian counterpart Andriy Deshchytsya in one of the European capitals.
A source in the Russian foreign ministry told Moscow`s state-run RIA Novosti news agency the talks would probably be held at the end of the week.
The breakthrough agreement was reached after hundreds of irate activists occupied a series of strategic buildings in the east at the weekend and declared independence for the bustling region of Donetsk.
Ukraine`s embattled leaders poured extra security forces into the flashpoint regions and regained control of the government seat in Kharkiv yesterday after a night of violence that included petrol bombs and stun grenades being hurled at police.
But the militants remain holed up behind barricades of razor wire and old tyres in the administration building in Donetsk and the SBU headquarters in Lugansk -- the site of the alleged hostage taking.
The SBU had accused the Kalashnikov-wielding separatists of rigging the building with explosives and refusing to let 60 people already inside "leave the building and return home".
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