The round table talks in the eastern city of Kharkiv included officials, lawmakers, business people and religious leaders from across the country, but no representatives of the separatists from the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
The second round of discussions followed hours after sustained gunfire throughout the night near the eastern city of Slovyansk, the stronghold of pro-Russia fighters. Forces loyal to the Kyiv government had moved in to protect a television tower.
“You have got in your home, in Luhansk and Donetsk, armed terrorists who are funded by Russians and those who fled Ukraine and want to seize our land,” interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk told Saturday’s meeting. “We’re not going talk to robbers and terrorists. They will not be telling the Ukrainian people how to live in our country.”
Russia said Kyiv should halt its month-long offensive against the separatists and questioned the legitimacy of an election the foreign ministry described as being held under “the thunder of guns.”
Financial autonomy, but no federalism
Yatsenyuk said the government was in favor of giving the east more financial autonomy, but again ruled out the idea of federalism, a policy preferred by Moscow.
Aleksandr Borodai, leader of the self-declared People’s Republic of Donetsk, commented: “Round tables are beautiful things but they won’t solve anything.”
Mediator Wolfgang Ischinger, appointed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), called on “Ukrainians, please, use words not weapons.”
Ukraine’s election body voiced fears that it may not be possible to hold next weekend’s presidential poll in the east. The Central Election Commission said on Saturday that it could not prepare for the vote in the east because of threats and “illegal actions” by separatists who have overrun more than a dozen towns and cities since early April.
The next round of talks is expected on Wednesday in the central city of Cherkasy.
Presidential elections are to be held on Sunday, May 25 with billionaire chocolate baron Petro Poroshenko currently leading former prime minister Yulia Tymoschenko in the opinion polls.
jm/slk (dpa, AP, AFP)