Ukraine\’s Petro Poroshenko has been sworn in as president of his troubled country as government forces continued to battle pro-Russian separatists in the east.
In his first address as Ukraine\’s new president, Petro Poroshenko declared that Crimea "is, was and will be Ukrainian."
Poroshenko – Ukraine\’s fifth president since the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union – said in his inaugural address that he will not accept Russia\’s annexation of Crimea. Moscow sent troops to the Black Sea peninsula earlier this year and took control of it in March.
The new Ukrainian leader also pledged to open a dialogue with countrymen in eastern regions where pro-Russian separatists have clashed with Ukrainian forces.
He offered amnesty to fighters who lay down their arms and offered to negotiate an end to the violence.
"I want peace and I will bring unity to Ukraine," Poroshenko said. "That\’s why I\’m starting my work with a peace plan."
The 48-year-old tycoon has been buoyed by messages of support from the West, after his victory in the 25 May poll.
In his speech Poroshenko called for peace, security and unity, saying he did not want war or revenge.
Poroshenko was inaugurated in the presence of dozens of foreign dignitaries – including US Vice-President Joe Biden – in the parliament in the capital Kiev.
Poroshenko, the owner of the Roshen chocolates group, took the oath of office and laid out his programme for ending the crisis.
He said: "I don\’t want war. I don\’t want revenge, despite the huge sacrifice of the Ukrainian people."
Poroshenko called on separatists in the east to lay down their arms, saying he would guarantee indemnity from criminal charges to all those who did not have blood on their hands.
But he said there would be no discussion concerning the territorial integrity of Ukraine.
"I will make unity happen," he said.
And he said of Crimea – annexed earlier this year by Russia – "Crimea is, was and always will be Ukrainian soil."
Poroshenko condemned the rule of former President Viktor Yanukovych, seen by many as pro-Moscow, who fled in February after a popular uprising in Kiev.
He accused Yanukovych of financing terrorism in the east, saying he was "fully responsible for the situation there today".
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Poroshenko on Friday held their first face-to-face talks on the sidelines of a D-Day anniversary event in France and discussed a possible ceasefire agreement in Ukraine, a French official said.
The meeting hosted by French President Francois Hollande, before D-Day celebrations on Friday, took place as clashes continued in eastern Ukraine near a border crossing with Russia, killing at least 15 pro-Russian separatists overnight.
Putin and Poroshenko reportedly discussed steps for a potential ceasefire during their 15-minute meeting.
It was the first meeting between the two men since pro-western chocolate tycoon Poroshenko won Ukraine\’s presidential election on May 25.
"They were able to begin a dialogue on possible de-escalation measures including Moscow recognising Poroshenko\’s election," an aide to Hollande said, underlining that Putin would be sending an ambassador to Kiev on Saturday.
"The practicalities of a ceasefire will also be discussed in the coming days."
Discussion ranged from the economic consequences of the Ukraine crisis to a possible ceasefire, Reuters reported, adding on Twitter that the office of French President Francois Hollande said Putin and Poroshenko shook hands.
Reports said the meeting had been prepared during several days of contacts but kept secret until it happened.
Hollande invited Poroshenko to Normandy as his personal guest at the last minute in an effort to break the ice between Moscow and Kiev.
U.S. President Barack Obama and President Putin held brief talks on the sidelines of D-Day anniversary celebrations in Normandy, Hollande\’s office said on Friday.
A White House official confirmed that an "informal\’\’ meeting had taken place, saying it had lasted 10 to 15 minutes.
A day earlier, he met British Prime Minister David Cameron and Hollande to discuss Moscow\’s role in the unrest.
Violence continued in the region late Thursday. Kyiv officials said at least 15 rebels were killed in clashes near the border with Russia.
At a G7 meeting in Brussels earlier Thursday, leaders warned that more economic sanctions could come within weeks if the Kremlin fails to curb its support for the rebels.
The United States and Britain have been the leading proponents of sanctions on Russian businesses and individuals in Putin\’s inner circle — but both countries have so far stopped short of harsher penalties on key Russian economic sectors.
France and Germany, which maintain strong energy and trade ties with Russia, have been less aggressive in their public statements.
The Brussels summit was originally scheduled as a G8 in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi. But after Russia annexed Ukraine\’s Crimean peninsula in March, Western powers rejected Putin\’s invitation and moved the summit to Brussels.