World / Europe

Ukraine marks national day, militants parade captives

(Agencies) Updated: 2014-08-25 10:46

Ukraine marks national day, militants parade captives

Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko (front) speaks during the Independence Day military parade, in the center of Kiev August 24, 2014. [Photo/Agencies]

KIEV/DONETSK, Ukraine - Ukraine marked its independence day on Sunday with a military march-past in Kiev, but pro-Moscow rebels countered by parading captured Ukrainian troops through the streets of their main stronghold.

The rival events highlighted the divide that will have to be bridged if a compromise on Ukraine is to be reached on Tuesday when Russian President Vladimir Putin meets his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko for the first time in months.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who visited Kiev on Saturday to try to lay the ground-work for a peace deal, said Tuesday's talks were unlikely to produce a breakthrough.

On Independence Square in the Ukrainian capital Kiev, President Poroshenko reviewed columns of men and armoured vehicles.

Some of the troops in the march-past were shortly heading to the front line in eastern Ukraine, Poroshenko said.

"It is clear that in the foreseeable future, unfortunately, a constant military threat will hang over Ukraine. And we need to learn not only to live with this, but also to be always prepared to defend the independence of our country," he said.

Poroshenko announced about $3 billion would be spent on re-equipping the army in 2015-2017.

Kiev and its Western allies accuse Moscow of funnelling weapons and men secretly into eastern Ukraine to shore up the struggling rebellion, a claim Moscow denies. Russia has called for an urgent ceasefire to provide help to trapped civilians.

In separatist-held Donetsk, about 100 people introduced over a public address system as Ukrainian prisoners-of-war were marched through the city's central Lenin Square on Sunday.

They looked dirty and unshaven and bowed their heads as they passed. Some had bandaged arms and heads. They were guarded by rebel fighters with guns, their bayonets fixed.

Earlier on Sunday, artillery shells hit the grounds of one of Donetsk's biggest hospitals. Authorities in Kiev deny targeting civilian areas.

Diplomats say Tuesday's meeting between Putin and Poroshenko in the Belarussian capital Minsk may provide the best chance yet of ending a conflict that has left ties between Moscow and the West at their most toxic since the Cold War and has sparked sanctions that are hurting the Russian and European economies.

The two presidents last met in June in a frosty encounter in Normandy, France, at commemorations to mark the World War Two D-Day landings. They did not shake hands.

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