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Ukraine President Backs Vote on Decentralization

Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko speaks to officials in his office, Kyiv, Ukraine, April 6, 2015.
Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko speaks to officials in his office, Kyiv, Ukraine, April 6, 2015.

Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko said Monday he is ready to hold a a referendum on whether to give greater political power to the country's regions, but added he was sure most Ukrainians would vote to maintain a "unitary state."

Poroshenko told members of a parliamentary commission, which is drafting amendments to Ukraine's constitution, that he would ensure a referendum on the country's "state structure" is held if the commission deems such a vote necessary.

Still, the president said public opinion polls show about 90 percent of Ukraine's population supports a "unitary model" of governance. He repeated that he is opposed to "federalization" - which, he said, has nothing in common with "decentralization."

Pro-Russian separatists held their own referendums last May in parts of eastern Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions, after which they declared independent "people's republics" in those areas. Kyiv did not recognize the results of those votes.

Poroshenko also said Monday that Ukrainian should be the country's only official language, and that three-quarters of the population support this.

Russia's Interfax news agency quoted a senior Donetsk People's Republic official, Andrei Purgin, as calling Poroshenko's statements on maintaining Ukraine as a unitary state and Ukrainian as the sole state language "absolutely unacceptable things" that contradict the cease-fire agreement reached between Kyiv and the separatists earlier this year.

Purgin also said no representatives of the Donetsk or Luhansk people's republics were present at Monday's meeting of the constitutional commission in Kyiv.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said Monday that six Ukrainian servicemen were killed and two wounded in fighting in eastern Ukraine over the preceding 24 hours.

More than 6,000 civilians, rebels and Ukrainian servicemen have been killed in eastern Ukraine since fighting broke out there between government and separatist forces a year ago.

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