Ukraine launches airstrikes against gunmen

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KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine’s new president-elect wasted no time Monday focusing on the top issues at hand — promising to negotiate an end to a pro-Russia insurgency in the east and saying he was willing to begin talks with Moscow.

Russia quickly welcomed the offer from 48-year-old chocolate magnate Petro Poroshenko, raising hopes that his election will indeed ease the protracted crisis that has fueled tensions unseen since the end of the Cold War.

But Ukraine's military launched airstrikes Monday against the separatists who had taken over the airport in the eastern city of Donetsk, suggesting that fighting in the east is far from over.

International observers, meanwhile hailed Ukraine’s presidential vote as a “genuine election,” saying it was held freely and fairly.

Poroshenko, known for his pragmatism, supports building strong ties with Europe but also has stressed the importance of mending relations with Moscow. Upon claiming victory in Sunday’s vote, he said his first step as president would be to visit the Donbass eastern industrial region, where pro-Russia separatists have seized government buildings, declared independence and battled government troops in weeks of fighting.

“Peace in the country and peace in the east is my main priority,” Poroshenko said Monday, signaling that he would bring to an end the Ukrainian army’s much-criticized campaign to drive out the armed pro-Russia separatists.

The tycoon looked decidedly cool and composed Sunday night when the exit poll results were announced. On Monday, he got emotional when he was asked about the crisis in the east.

“The anti-terrorist operation cannot and should not last two or three months,” he said. “It should and will last hours.”

The military operation has caused civilian deaths and destroyed property — angering many eastern residents — while still failing to crush the rebellion.

The president-elect also had harsh words for the pro-Russia gunmen, comparing them to Somalia pirates.

“Their goal is to turn Donbass into a Somalia where they would rule with the power of machine guns. l will never allow that to happen on the territory of Ukraine,” Poroshenko said, adding that he hoped Russia would support his efforts to stabilize the east.

On Monday in Donetsk, a major eastern city, heavy shelling was heard from the airport. Fighter jets and military helicopters were seen flying overhead, and dense black smoke rose in the air.

Vladislav Seleznyov, a spokesman for Kiev’s anti-terrorist operation, wrote on his Facebook account that the military gave an ultimatum to the armed men who had occupied the airport to lay down their arms. He said the gunmen didn’t comply and the military launched an air strike.

Denis Pushilin, a leader of the separatists, said they had sent their men to the airport after some of their supporters were detained.

Many flights to or from Donetsk were delayed or canceled on Monday. Access to the airport was blocked by police.

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