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Merkel urges Putin to help end violence in eastern Ukraine

Tanks are seen in the government-held industrial town of Avdiyivka, Ukraine, February 2, 2017. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

BERLIN (Reuters) - German leader Angela Merkel urged Russia’s Vladimir Putin in a telephone call on Tuesday to use his influence on separatists in eastern Ukraine to stop the violence there, and the two agreed on the need for new ceasefire efforts, a German government spokesman said.

Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists have both blamed each other for the latest flare-up in a conflict that has killed some 10,000 people since April 2014.

“The German Chancellor and the Russian President agreed that new efforts must be made to secure a ceasefire and asked foreign ministers and their advisers to remain in close contact,” government spokesman Steffen Seibert said.

Merkel and French President Francois Hollande have long tried to broker an end to the conflict but the two-year-old Minsk peace deal has merely locked the two sides in a stalemate.

The United States and European Union have imposed sanctions on Russia. Ukraine and NATO accuse the Kremlin of fuelling the conflict by supporting separatists with troops and weapons - a charge it denies.

The Kremlin, in its description of the Merkel-Putin call, said “serious concerns were expressed in connection with the escalation of the armed conflict resulting in human losses”.

Kiev is nervous that U.S. President Donald Trump will shift the political balance in Russia’s favour and that he may consider lifting sanctions against Moscow.

The fighting in eastern Ukraine broke out a month after Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in March 2014. The statement from Merkel’s spokesman made no mention of Crimea, although the Chancellor does regularly repeat sharp criticism of the annexation.

Reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Paul Carrel and Mark Trevelyan