|Talks continue amid turmoil in eastern Ukraine||
Sustained gunfire was heard throughout the night near the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk, the stronghold of pro-Russia fighters, ahead of a second round of European-brokered talks on Saturday aimed at resolving the crisis.
On the outskirts of Slavyansk, the fighting began late Friday when forces loyal to the Kiev government moved in to protect a television tower near the small village of Andriyivka. Residents said it went on through the night, AP reported.
Debris from the shooting was visible Saturday morning, including a badly damaged train and craters caused by mortar bombs or other heavy artillery.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said some people were wounded, but gave no specifics.
In one southeastern city, Mariupol, steelworkers retook government buildings from pro-Russia fighters and cleared away their barricades. Mariupol is a major industrial city in the Donetsk region, lying on the main road between Russia and the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed in March.
And in the eastern village of Velyka Novosilka, armed backers of Ukrainian unity dressed in black seized control of a police station and vowed to expel the separatists in Donetsk through force if necessary.
Moscow questions presidential vote
Meanwhile, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement condemning what it described as a sharp escalation in the violence in eastern Ukraine, accusing the Ukrainian government of using the talks as cover for military operations against its citizens.
Moscow questioned whether Ukraine's May 25 presidential election can be held democratically amid continued fighting in the east of the country, according to AFP.
"Can elections held amid the thunder of guns really meet the democratic norms of the electoral process?" the foreign ministry said in a statement, urging authorities in Kiev to "immediately end military operations" in the country's southeast.
The second round of talks on Ukraine's future began Saturday in Kharkiv, an eastern city that has not seen major insurgent activity. As on Wednesday, the talks included officials, lawmakers, business people and religious leaders from across the country, but no representatives of the separatists from Donetsk and Lugansk.
The first round of talks was held Wednesday in Kiev, but brought few visible results since those who declared independence in the east were not invited.
Gazprom assures Europe about gas supply
In another development, Russia's Gazprom assured European customers it would continue to supply their gas, after its threat to halts supplies to transit nation Ukraine next month over non-payment, Reuters reported.
Any shortfall would be the fault of Ukraine, chief executive Alexei Miller told Russian television. Moscow blamed theft by Ukraine for a disruption to exports in a previous dispute.
Russia has warned that it will not supply Ukraine with gas in June unless Kiev pays in advance $1.66 billion by June 2, raising fears that gas piped to Europe through Ukraine could be affected.
"Gazprom will simply supply Ukraine as much as gas as it will have bought, and to the Russian border with Ukraine we will send as much gas as Europe should get and Ukraine should transit," Miller said in an interview on Rossiya-24 television.
"It would be our Ukrainian partners' responsibility for a so-called unauthorized off-take. But Gazprom from its part will do everything to ensure that European customers have no problems," Miller told the news show Vesti.
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