DONETSK, Ukraine – Ukraine's prime minister resigned after his governing coalition collapsed, plunging the former Soviet state into political limbo as it struggles to quell a deadly conflict in the east.
The shock announcement on Thursday added to an already chaotic situation in the rebel-controlled east, where international experts are carrying out a complex investigation into last week's downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 that left 298 dead.
And the gravity of the situation facing the country was underscored by allegations from Washington that the US has evidence Russian troops are firing artillery on Ukrainian military positions from Russian soil.
Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said he was stepping down over the "dissolution of the parliamentary coalition and the blocking of government initiatives" after several parties walked out on the ruling group.
The collapse of the ruling coalition paves the way for early elections to be called by President Petro Poroshenko within 30 days.
Although a truce has been declared by both saparatists and government forces in the immediate vicinity of the vast crash site, heavy shelling was ongoing nearby including around Donetsk, just 60 kilometres from the scene.
EU to put more under sanctions
The EU will add 15 Ukrainian and Russian individuals and 18 entities to its sanctions list, said a source from the bloc.
The move came just a week after the EU unveiled a round of toughened embargoes against Moscow, which is widely expected to sink into recession this year.
In the debate over more sanctions, Britain ruffled feathers in neighbouring France over its push for an EU arms embargo, as Paris is keen to go ahead with its sale of two warships to Russia.
On Thursday, Poroshenko said he was "very disappointed" at France's insistence on the deal, saying: "It's not a question of money, industry or jobs. It's a question of values."
US intelligence officials have said they believe the rebels mistakenly shot down the Malaysia Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur with a surface-to-air missile provided by Russia.
Moscow has denied the charges and Putin has pledged to "do everything" to influence the separatists and ensure a full probe into the crash.
Russia has continued a troop build-up near the Ukraine border and kept up deliveries of arms and equipment to separatists since the downing of the Malaysian airliner, US defence officials said, without confirming that Russian troops were firing on Ukrainian positions.
The first bodies from the crash arrived in the Netherlands on Wednesday to a solemn ceremony. Dozens more were flown there on Thursday to undergo an identification process that Rutte has warned could take months.
Dutch police have also been visiting bereaved relatives of the victims to retrieve DNA samples from items such as hairbrushes, and obtain details of tattoos and fingerprints, as well as consulting medical and dental records to help with the identification.
Canada meanwhile revealed details of previously announced sanctions targeting Russia's arms, financial and energy sectors.
The list includes 10 Russian companies, including Gazprombank, Kalashnikov Concern, and Vnesheconombank.
And Human Rights Watch urged Kiev to stop using unguided Grad rockets which it said have killed at least 16 civilians in four recent attacks, warning that firing such weapons at populated areas could amount to war crimes.
The rights group said that both government forces and pro-Russian rebels have used Grads – unguided rockets fired in salvos and sprayed across a wide area. — AFP