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EU, Russia bid to calm tensions over Ukraine

Kiev - World powers sought to ease tensions over Ukraine Tuesday as the country's interim authorities grappled with the threat of economic collapse and separatism after the dramatic ouster of pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovych.

Russia softened its angry tone over the sudden, weekend regime change in Ukraine, while senior EU and US diplomats visited the ex-Soviet country that Yanukovych had tried to steer towards Moscow but whose new leaders have tilted firmly towards the West.

Frantic talks took place between US, European and Russian diplomats as Ukraine appealed for US$35 billion (25 billion euros) in aid to avoid bankruptcy and interim president Oleksandr Turchynov warned of a secessionist threat.

The European Union had said it stood ready to give conditional financial assistance to Ukraine.

"In several regions of Ukraine there are very dangerous signs of separatism," Turchynov told parliament on Tuesday, voicing fears that the pro-Russia east could push for partition after a pro-Western administration took charge of the country following months of anti-Yanukovych protests.

Russia had initially reacted with fury to the weekend's rapid-fire political changes -- brought about by last week's clashes that left nearly 100 dead -- accusing the new leadership of waging an "armed mutiny".

But on Tuesday Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov sought to soften the tone, saying Ukraine should not be forced to choose between Russia and the West.

"We confirmed our principled position of non-intervention in Ukraine's internal affairs," Lavrov said in Moscow.

"We are interested in Ukraine being part of the European family, in all senses of the word," he said. "It is dangerous and counterproductive to force Ukraine into a choice."

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton also sought to calm tensions during a press conference in Kiev.

"We offer support, not interference for the future," Ashton told reporters in a bid to downplay claims that the West wants to bring Ukraine into its sphere of influence.

She also stressed "the importance of the strong links between Ukraine and Russia and the importance of having them maintained".

Ashton however offered no concrete commitments of economic assistance, saying only that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was "very keen" to meet the future new government.

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The Russian and Ukrainian flags fly, next to the statue of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, Feb. 25.

(AP)

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