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Putin Calls on Separatists in E. Ukraine to Postpone Secession Referendum

Russian President Vladimir Putin has urged pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine to postpone a referendum on secession set for Sunday.

Speaking Wednesday after meeting in Moscow with the head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (Didier Burkhalter), Mr. Putin said he was making the request in order to "create the necessary conditions for dialogue" with the Ukrainian government.

While Mr. Putin blamed the authorities in Kyiv for the crisis, accusing them of taking power in a "coup" and failing to disarm "radical right-wing and nationalist elements." He said the crisis should be resolved as soon as possible, "taking into account the interests of all Ukrainian citizens, no matter where they live."

Pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk scheduled a referendum for Sunday (May 11), asking residents to vote yes or no on the creation of an independent "Donetsk People's Republic."

A leader of the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic (Denis Pushilin) told the Reuters news agency that its "people's assembly" would discuss Mr. Putin's request, adding that they have the "utmost respect" for the Russian president.

Mr. Putin also called for Ukrainian authorities to immediately ceased what he called "all military and punitive operations" in southeastern Ukraine, and insisted that Russian military forces have been withdrawn from the Ukrainian border.

Russian officials have repeatedly claimed that Russian forces were ordered back to their bases after exercises along the Ukrainian border, but NATO officials said they saw no sign that the Russian forces had withdrawn. ]]