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Ukraine Moves Toward More Autonomy for Separatist Regions

FILE - Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is seen speaking to lawmakers in the Parliament of Ukraine, in Kyiv, in a June 4, 2015, photo.

Ukraine's parliament approved a draft law Thursday to grant greater autonomy to the separatist-held areas in the country’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

As stipulated by the cease-fire agreement reached last February in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, President Petro Poroshenko submitted the bill to parliament to give the areas that have proclaimed themselves "people's republics" some powers of self-rule.

Visiting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland called Thursday’s vote "yet another historic day" in a violence-ridden country, where 6,500 people have been killed since the beginning of the conflict in April of last year.

Dissenting lawmakers say the law undermines Ukraine's struggle to maintain its territorial integrity after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in March of last year.

For their part, rebels have demanded that the special status for the areas they control should be enshrined in Ukraine’s Constitution.

Ukrainian lawmakers voted 288-57 Thursday to ask Ukraine's Constitutional Court to review the legality of the proposal.

If the court decides the law is constitutional, at least 300 of the 450 deputies in Ukraine’s legislature would need to approve the bill in its final reading.

The next parliamentary session is scheduled for the fall after a summer recess.