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Insurgents in eastern Ukraine declare independence

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Pro-Russian gunmen and activists react while listening to a speaker as they declare independence for the Luhansk region in eastern Ukraine on Monday, May 12, 2014. Pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine declared independence Monday for the Donetsk and Luhansk regions following their contentious referendum ballot. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

Pro-Russian gunmen and activists react while listening to a speaker as they declare independence for the Luhansk region in eastern Ukraine on Monday, May 12, 2014. Pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine declared independence Monday for the Donetsk and Luhansk regions following their contentious referendum ballot. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

Insurgent leader Denis Pushilin speaks during a news conference in Donetsk, Ukraine, Monday, May 12, 2014. The referendum balloting Sunday in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, which together have 6.5 million people, was condemned as a sham and a violation of international law by Kiev’s interim government and other western powers. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Swiss President and OSCE chairperson in office Didier Burkhalter gestures as he talks with the media, after he met with EU foreign ministers, at the European Council building in Brussels, Monday, May 12, 2014. European Union foreign ministers are considering adding more people to its Ukraine sanctions list but are not expected to go beyond visa bans and asset freezes before the May 25 elections in the east European nation. (AP Photo/Yves Logghe)

In this photo taken on Sunday, May 11, 2014, flowers and Orthodox icons are seen outside a police station where a few people were killed during fighting between government forces and insurgents on Friday, May 9 in Mariupol, eastern Ukraine. The insurgents in the east have seized government buildings and clashed with government troops and police over the past month. More than 30 people have been reported killed since Ukrainian forces began trying to retake some eastern cities from the insurgents. (AP Photo/Manu Brabo)

In this photo taken on Sunday, May 11, 2014, people mourn outside a police station where a few people were killed during fighting between government forces and insurgents on Friday, May 9 in Mariupol, eastern Ukraine. The insurgents in the east have seized government buildings and clashed with government troops and police over the past month. More than 30 people have been reported killed since Ukrainian forces began trying to retake some eastern cities from the insurgents. (AP Photo/Manu Brabo)

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DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) — Pro-Moscow insurgents in eastern Ukraine declared independence Monday and sought to join Russia, undermining Ukraine’s May 25 presidential election, strengthening the Kremlin’s hand and putting pressure on Kiev to hold talks with the separatists.

Russia signaled it has no intention of subsuming eastern Ukraine the way it annexed Crimea in March. Instead, Moscow is pushing to include eastern regions in negotiations on Ukraine’s future — suggesting that Russia prefers a political, not military, solution to its worst standoff with the West since the Cold War.

Such talks are central to a potential path toward peace outlined Monday by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The plan laid out by Swiss President Didier Burkhalter calls on all sides to refrain from violence and urges immediate amnesty, talks on decentralization and the status of the Russian language. That’s a key complaint of the armed insurgents who have seized power in eastern regions and clashed with government troops and police.

But it’s up to the Ukrainian government to take the next step.

Acting Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk pledged Monday to hold talks with those in Ukraine’s east. But he gave no specifics and did not address Sunday’s vote or the declarations of independence by the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

“We would like to launch the broad national dialogue with the east, center, the west, and all of Ukraine,” Yatsenyuk told a news conference in Brussels, adding that the agenda should include changes to the constitution to give more power to the regions.

Ukraine’s central government and the West say Moscow has encouraged weeks of unrest in eastern Ukraine in a possible attempt to grab more land. Russia says that’s not so and accuses the West of meddling in Moscow’s backyard.

The interim Ukrainian government’s room to maneuver is shrinking.

With a national presidential election scheduled in 13 days, the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk declared independence Monday, and those in Donetsk even asked to join neighboring Russia. The sprawling areas along Russia’s border, home to about 6.6 million people, form Ukraine’s industrial heartland.

“We, the people of the Donetsk People’s Republic, based on the results of the May 11, 2014, referendum . declare that henceforth the Donetsk People’s Republic will be deemed a sovereign state,” Denis Pushilin, co-chairman of the insurgent government, said to applause Monday.

Wearing an ill-fitting suit and reading his speech from a laptop, he continued.

“The people of Donetsk have always been part of the Russian world, regardless of ethnic affiliation. For us, the history of Russia is our history,” he said.

A day earlier, both regions held a slapdash vote that Ukraine’s acting president called a “sham” and western governments said violated international law.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday the United States does not recognize the results of the vote, and is focusing on making sure Ukraine’s presidential election take place as planned.

But that is starting to look in doubt: Luhansk spokesman Vasily Nikitin said his region will not take part in the presidential vote.

The interim government in Kiev had been hoping the presidential vote would unify the country behind a new, democratically chosen leadership. Ukraine’s crisis could grow even worse if regions start rejecting the presidential vote. Dozens have been reported killed since Ukrainian forces began trying to retake some eastern cities.

Organizers said 89 percent of those who cast ballots Sunday in the Donetsk region and about 96 percent of those who turned out in Luhansk voted for sovereignty.

Voters “have chosen that path that has enabled the formation of an independent state — the Luhansk People’s Republic,” self-declared “people’s

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