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EU leaders gather in Brussels to fill bloc's top jobs

EU leaders are meeting to decide on who will replace the European Council president and the foreign policy chief. A promising candidate has withdrawn herself from the running.

It is expected that EU leaders gathering in Brussels on Saturday will agree on key appointments to the bloc. Earlier in the day, they

discussed the ongoing standoff in Ukraine

and calls for tougher sanctions on Russia.

Federica Mogherini

Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini

The conservative Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk (pictured above) and center-left Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini (left) are emerging as the respective favorites for the posts of president of the European Council - replacing Herman Van Rompuy - and the bloc's top diplomat, replacing Catherine Ashton.

"If you were to ask me for an educated guess, I would say that's probably the dynamic duo which will lead Europe in the future," said Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb.

Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, a former frontrunner for European Council President, said she would not contest the role. Unlike Tusk, however, Thorning-Schmidt had never publicly declared herself a candidate.

"I am not a candidate. I am prime minister of Denmark. I have said this a long time, many times," the Social Democrat leader said from Paris, where earlier on Saturday fellow Socialists had gathered at the invitation of French President Francois Hollande.

Many officials in Brussels are expecting a deal that will balance the interest of left- and right-wing factions across the bloc, eastern and western states, northern Europe and the south, while putting more women in senior EU roles.

Tusk's chances to succeed Van Rompuy from December have risen in recent days, after support from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Britain's David Cameron.

In overall charge of the executive Commission, succeeding Jose Manuel Barroso, will be

conservative former Luxembourg premier Jean-Claude Juncker

, who was appointed two months ago.

jr/mkg (Reuters, AP, dpa)

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