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September 24, 2017

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Poroshenko sworn in with Ukraine facing civil war

KIEV -- Western-backed tycoon Petro Poroshenko vowed Saturday to avert civil war and mend ties with Russia after being sworn in as Ukraine's fifth post-Soviet president with the nation facing disintegration and economic collapse.

Poroshenko took the oath of office one day after holding his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin since a May 25 election victory entrusted him with taming a bloody crisis that has shaken the post-Cold War order and redrawn Europe's map.

The 48-year-old magnate — dubbed the "chocolate king" for his popular brand of sweets — first asked a packed session of parliament to pay a minute of silence for the 100 people killed in three days of carnage in Kiev that led to the February ouster of Ukraine's Kremlin-backed regime.

The self-made billionaire then vowed to give an amnesty to any insurgents who had "no blood on their hands" as the first step in a peace initiative designed to save the nation of 46 million — which saw its Crimea Peninsula annexed by Russia in March — from splitting further along ethnic lines.

"I am assuming the presidency in order to preserve and strengthen Ukraine's unity," Poroshenko said in an address that alternated between Ukrainian and Russian.

"The citizens of Ukraine will never feel the blessing of peace and security until we resolve our relations with Russia."

But Poroshenko also added that he would never accept Russia's seizure of Crimea or attempts to divert Ukraine's pro-European course.

"Ukraine now returns to its natural European condition that so many generations have longed for," Poroshenko said firmly.

Saturday's solemn ceremony was attended by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and European Council president Herman Van Rompuy along with more than 20 other dignitaries from countries that back Kiev's new Westward drive.

"All neighbours ... need to respect (Ukraine's) sovereign choices, including stronger ties with the European Union and its territorial integrity," Van Rompuy said in a clear reference to Russia.

But Moscow was only represented by its acting ambassador to Kiev — a telling sign of how far relations between the two neighbors have slipped since the February revolt.

And several separatist commanders that the West accuses Russia of backing dismissed Poroshenko's presidency as illegitimate.

"He is the president of another country," the self-styled prime minister of the "Donetsk People's Republic" told Russia's RIA Novosti news agency.

'Positive' Normandy Talks

Putin sounded a surprisingly upbeat note after Friday's meeting with Poroshenko.

"I cannot but welcome the position of Poroshenko on the necessity to end the bloodletting immediately in the east of Ukraine," he told reporters in France.

"I cannot say for sure how that can be implemented in practical terms, but overall it seemed to be to be the right approach," Putin said.

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