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Ukraine rebels push back controversial elections

Pro-Russian separatists have agreed to postpone the local ballots in east Ukraine that Kyiv claimed to be illegitimate. The truce in Ukraine is "holding and being strengthened," NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg says.

Representatives of Luhansk and Donetsk said that Kyiv must grant special status to their regions in exchange for delaying the local polls.

Denis Pushilin and Vladislav Deinego announced the concession on Tuesday, meeting in Minsk four days after

leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany discussed the Ukraine crisis

in Paris. The Western countries and Ukraine then pushed for a delay of the polls, which the separatists had scheduled without consulting Kyiv.

"We have studied statements and recommendations of Mrs. Merkel and Mr. Hollande based on the results of Paris summit on 2 October," the two envoys (pictured above, archive image) said.

"Today, here in Minsk, we also consulted representatives of OSCE and Russia. Based on that, we announce the consent of the Luhansk and Donetsk peoples' republics to postpone elections from 18 October and 1 November to next year," they added.

Vote 'illegitimate'

The key Minsk accord, fleshed out in February this year, envisions local elections in Ukraine in late October. However, the Kyiv government said that it was impossible to hold elections in the east due to security concerns.

The government, led by President

Petro Poroshenko

, also said that separatist-organized elections would be illegitimate and could derail the peace process.

Paving the way for Kyiv

On Tuesday, Poroshenko said that postponing the elections might help Kyiv to reestablish its authority over the two provinces.

"It paves the way for Ukraine to return to Donbass region via elections in accordance with Ukrainian laws and based on OSCE standards, and of course, with no occupying armies," he wrote on Facebook.

The fighting in eastern Ukraine has all but stopped during recent weeks, with both Kyiv forces and the rebels gradually

moving tanks and light artillery away

from the frontlines.

'Hope' for Ukraine

Russia, NATO, and the EU all welcomed the decision to push the elections back.

The general secretary of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, described the situation in Ukraine as "fragile," but added that delaying the elections was a "positive step," speaking to reporters on Tuesday.

"The ceasefire is holding and is being strengthened," Stoltenberg added, commenting on the withdrawal of heavy weapons.

The elections might be held in February next year, rebel representatives said.

dj/se (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa, Ukrainski Novini, Interfax)

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