Talks hope to end Ukraine crisis

Ukraine’s new president-elect has promised to negotiate an end to a pro-Russia insurgency in the east, saying he was willing to begin talks with Moscow.

But the Kiev government also launched an air strike on militants occupying a major airport.

Russia quickly welcomed Petro Poroshenko’s offer for talks, raising hopes that his election will indeed ease the protracted crisis that has fuelled tensions unseen since the Cold War.

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But Ukraine’s military launched air strikes against separatists who had taken over the airport in the eastern capital of Donetsk in what appeared to be the most visible operation of the Ukrainian troops since they started a crackdown on insurgents last month.

In Donetsk, a city of one million, sustained artillery and gunfire was heard from the airport. Fighter jets and military helicopters were seen flying overhead, and dense black smoke rose in the air.

Vladislav Seleznyov, a spokesman for Kiev’s anti-terrorist operation, wrote on his Facebook account that the military had given an ultimatum to the armed men who had occupied the airport to lay down their arms.

He said the gunmen didn’t comply and the military launched an air strike.

Denis Pushilin, a leader of the separatists, said they had sent their men to the airport after some of their supporters were detained.

Many flights to or from Donetsk were delayed or cancelled. Access to the airport was blocked by police.

In Kiev, international observers hailed Ukraine’s presidential vote as a “genuine election,” saying it was held freely and fairly.

Chocolate magnate Mr Poroshenko, known for his pragmatism, supports building strong ties with Europe but also has stressed the importance of mending relations with Moscow.

Upon claiming victory in Sunday’s vote, he said his first step as president would be to visit the Donbass eastern industrial region, where pro-Russia separatists have seized government buildings, declared independence and battled government troops in weeks of fighting.

“Peace in the country and peace in the east is my main priority,” Mr Poroshenko said, signalling that he would bring to an end the Ukrainian army’s much-criticised campaign to drive out the armed pro-Russia separatists.

Moscow has said it is ready for a direct dialogue with Ukraine’s new president and does not need any Western mediation, Russia’s foreign minister has said.

Sergey Lavrov saidHe said that “we are ready for dialogue with Kiev representatives, with Petro Poroshenko”. He added that “we don’t need any mediators,” in a reference to the United States and the European Union.

With votes from 60 per cent of precincts counted, Mr Poroshenko was leading the Ukrainian elections with about 54 per cent in the field of 21 candidates. Former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko was running a distant second with 13 per cent.

The 48-year-old billionaire, who claimed victory after exit polls showed him with a commanding lead in Sunday’s vote.

Speaking after the polls closed, Mr Poroshenko promised to guarantee the rights of Russians in the East, including the right to speak Russian and extend amnesty to those who haven’t taken up weapons

The election was seen as a critical step toward resolving the protracted crisis three months after pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych was chased from office by crowds following months of street protests.