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Merkel and Hollande call Putin ahead of Ukraine presidential vote

The leaders of Germany and France have telephoned the Russian president over their concerns on Ukraine, which votes for a new president on Sunday. All agreed the poll should go ahead as peacefully as possible.

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande spoke to Russia's Vladimir Putin by telephone on Saturday. Merkel's office said all three expressed their concern over the situation in Ukraine.

Their conversation came a day ahead of presidential polls in which 21 candidates will compete to become the next leader of Ukraine.

Merkel's office said the three agreed that Sunday's election should take place peacefully in as many parts of Ukraine as possible. But tensions remain high in the east, following more deadly clashes on Friday between pro-Russian separatists and government troops.

The separatists are expected to prevent voting in half or more electorates in Ukraine's east.

The Kremlin, which Germany, France and other Western nations have accused of fanning the rebellion, said the three leaders expressed "an interest in seeing that the presidential election in Ukraine was held in a peaceful and calm atmosphere."

The conversation highlights the importance the European Union places on a swift resolution to the crisis, as the bloc holds the last day of four-day elections for its own parliament on Sunday.

On Friday, Putin promised to recognize the outcome of Sunday's Ukraine vote. A statement from Hollande on Saturday noted Putin's pledge to work with Ukraine's new leadership, and added that all three backed OSCE support to end the ongoing crisis and amend Ukraine's constitution.

Elsewhere, Putin has publicly criticized Britain's Prince Charles, saying alleged remarks the Prince made comparing him to Hitler were "unacceptable" and of "unroyal behavior."

jr/tj (AP, Reuters, dpa, AFP)

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