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Ukraine Celebrates Independence Day

Thousands of servicemen marched in downtown Kiev on Monday to mark Ukraine’s Independence Day.

The troops carried rifles but, unlike last year, the parade did not feature any of the more powerful weaponry which could be viewed as sensitive as Ukraine is mired in a conflict between government forces and Russia-backed separatists.

The conflict in the east, which has claimed more than 6,800 lives since it began in April 2014, saw a major uptick in violence last week with nine civilians and soldiers killed in just one day.

Speaking at the parade, President Petro Poroshenko said Ukraine would continue to increase its troop numbers in order to fend off attacks of separatist rebels.

The press office of the Ukrainian military operation in the east said Monday that the rebels violated the cease-fire 82 times overnight, in some cases with large-caliber weapons that should have been withdrawn in line with a truce signed in February.

The presidents of Ukraine, France and Germany are meeting this evening in Berlin to discuss a peaceful solution to the crisis. Moscow is not sending its representative to Berlin but said it would watch the meeting closely.

A top French official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t allowed to speak on the issue, said the gathering was planned as a three-party meeting and that talks also including Russia could be expected “in the next few weeks.”

In Rome, Pope Francis made his latest appeal for the end of fighting on the eve of the Independence Day.

“I renew my heartfelt appeal, so that the commitments undertaken to achieve pacification are respected, and with the help of organizations and people of good will, the humanitarian emergency in the country is responded to,” Francis told tens of thousands of people gathered Sunday at the Vatican in St. Peter’s Square for his traditional window appearance. “May the Lord give peace to the beloved Ukrainian land, which is preparing to celebrate the national holiday tomorrow.”

 Georgian Leaders Congratulate Ukraine on Independence Day

Georgia is and will be supporter of brotherly Ukrainian people, especially now, when Ukraine has to fight for strengthening of its sovereignty. I am confident that our relations, built throughout centuries and based on unwavering friendship, will further develop in the future,” said President Giorgi Margvelashvili in his message.

“Georgia will always be Ukraine’s active supporter. With this very mutual support and joint efforts we will be able to overcome difficulties and continue to move forward with firm steps towards statehood building and European integration,” Georgian PM Irakli Garibashvili said in his congratulation messages to the Ukrainian President and PM.