Russian President Vladimir Putin has called for the postponement of a referendum on autonomy in southeastern Ukraine that is scheduled to be held on May 11.
In a Wednesday meeting with Swiss President Didier Burkhalter, Putin also called on Ukraine's military to halt all operations against pro-Russia activists who have seized government buildings and police stations across at least a dozen towns in eastern Ukraine, AP reported.
The Russian leader described Ukraine's upcoming presidential election — slated for May 25 — as a move "in the right direction," but repeated Russia's long-held stance that constitutional reforms must precede any nationwide vote in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian forces seized the rebel-held city hall in the eastern port city of Mariupol overnight, driving out pro-Russian activists, then withdrew, making no attempt to hold onto the building, witnesses said on Wednesday, according to Reuters.
Ukraine's Channel 5 television said earlier the Ukrainian National Guard had seized the administrative center in Mariupol, a mainly Russian-speaking city of half a million and key component in the self-declared breakaway People's Republic of Donetsk that will hold a referendum on secession this weekend.
But witnesses said the soldiers left after smashing furniture and office equipment. The smell of tear gas hung in the air inside the building which was largely empty in the morning, except for activists in gas masks clearing debris.
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