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EU-Ukraine leaders to discuss reforms, pro-Russian uprising

EU officials are meeting with Ukraine's leaders to discuss planned reforms for the country. It is the first summit between the two sides since last year's unrest following the ousting of former President Yanukovych.

On Monday, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko welcomed European Union (EU) President Donald Tusk, and Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, to discussions over Ukraine's political and financial future.

The cash-strapped country is currently receiving international financial support to help avoid bankruptcy in exchange for implementing broad political and economic reforms.

Poroshenko has called for a free trade agreement between Ukraine and the EU to be implemented.

Former President Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign the deal, leading to

mass protests and ending with his ousting

in February last year.

The deal has now been sidelined until 2016, so that talks can be held between Brussels, Ukraine and Russia to assuage Moscow's worries of a negative impact on its economy.

The EU is expected to encourage Ukraine to push for greater improvement on key areas such as reforming the justice sector, constitutional change and privatizing the nation's energy supplier, Naftogaz.

The bloc wants to reduce the company's control over Ukraine's energy market.

Ongoing unrest

Poroshenko has also asked that visa requirements for Ukrainian citizens travelling to the EU be relaxed, as well as for a peacekeeping mission to be established in the nation's east.

The former Soviet state is continuing to battle a pro-Russian uprising in the area, which the West believes is Russian-backed.

Shelling is ongoing in the area, despite a

ceasefire deal struck in Minsk

in February.

Unarmed civilian observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) are stationed in the region to monitor its implementation.

EU President Tusk said the former Soviet state must be willing to do the hard work in order to reap the rewards.

"You have a powerful enemy, but you also have a lot of friends. You can count on their help, but it will not be enough unless you yourself change Ukraine," he said.

Observers from the OSCE said they had seen "intense shelling"

in the town of Shyrokyne

, a few kilometers east from the port of Mariupol.

The Ukrainian military reported that one serviceman had been killed and three more wounded in recent attacks by separatists in the area.

Kyiv is still to receive 250 million euros ($272 million) in existing loan agreements, with the possibility of a third package of 1.8 billion euros ($1.9 billion) in May.

This is in addition to a $17.5 billion (16.2 billion euros) credit from the International Monetary Fund.

On Tuesday President Poroshenko will meet will other international officials at a conference to show off Ukraine's progress, and attract potential investors.

an/bw (dpa, AFP, Reuters)

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