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A pro-Russian gunman guards a monument to Soviet security police founder Felix Dzerzhinsky in the town of Luhansk. AP/Press Association Images

Ukrainian rebels have been offered very limited self-rule

It comes as Ukraine and the EU ratify an association agreement that Poroshenko called the first step towards EU membership.

UKRAINIAN LAWMAKERS HAVE adopted legislation granting limited self-rule to parts of the pro-Russian east as a landmark EU pact at the heart of the country’s deadliest crisis since independence was ratified.

But renewed clashes that killed four civilians yesterday heaped further pressure on a fragile truce in the bloody five-month war and raised new questions about whether President Petro Poroshenko will succeed in keeping his splintered country together.

Despite the violence, lawmakers adopted two key laws proposed by Poroshenko aimed at ending the pro-Moscow revolt in the industrial east.

The move came shortly before the MPs signed the 1,200-page political and economic association agreement in a simultaneous session with the European parliament.

The European parliament overwhelmingly voted to ratify the landmark association pact with Ukraine.

“This is a historic moment,” European parliament president Martin Schulz told the assembly in Strasbourg, as legislators voted to ratify the pact by 535 votes with 127 votes against and 35 abstentions.

Poroshenko said the EU pact was the ‘first important step’ to EU membership

The historic occasion had been muted by the two sides’ decision to bow to Russian pressure and delay until 2016 applying the free trade rules that pulled Ukraine out of a rival union being built by the Kremlin.

The rejection of the same EU deal by Kremlin-backed president Viktor Yanukovych in November triggered the bloody chain of events that led to his February ouster and Russia’s subsequent seizure of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula.

The new peace plan plan offers three years of limited self-rule to parts of the rebel-held territory.

Lawmakers said 277 deputies backed the disputed measure in the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada chamber.

The measures gives Poroshenko a big political boost ahead of his trip to Washington for crunch talks with US President Barack Obama on Thursday and a special appearance before the Congress.

Ukraine Surrounded by bodyguards, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, center, walks, during his visit to the Ilich Iron and Steel Works in the southern coastal town of Mariupol. AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

The legislation includes the following measures:

  • The rebel-held Lugansk and Donetsk regions will be granted a “special status” giving them broader autonomy for a temporary three-year period.
  • Local elections to be held in certain districts of the two mainly-Russian speaking regions on December 7. The last local elections held nationwide were in October 2010.
  • Use of Russian language to be allowed in state institutions.
  • Regional councils will have the power to appoint local judges and prosecutors.
  • Local authorities in Donetsk and Lugansk can “strengthen good neighbourly relations” with their counterparts across the border in Russia.
  • The legislation also promises to help restore damaged infrastructure and to provide social an economic assistance to particularly hard-hit areas.
  • Another bill on amnesty protects from criminal prosecution “participants of events in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions” — appearing to apply to both the insurgents and Ukrainian government troops. Rights groups have accused fighters on both sides of abuses that might be classified as war crimes.

- © AFP, 2014

Read: The EU is targeting Russia’s oil and AK47s in its latest round of sanctions >

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