Ukraine rebels to delay local elections

Officials of the eastern Ukraine regions under the control of Russia-backed separatists say they will postpone local elections that were to be held in the next several weeks, an issue that had impeded progress toward a firm resolution of the conflict.

Ukraine's president and Russian lawmakers hailed the move as a step toward peace in a war that has killed more than 8,000 people since April 2014.

A statement Tuesday from Denis Pushilin and Vladislav Deinego said the rebel-run areas of Donetsk and Luhansk provinces would put off the votes until Feb. 21. The two are the Donetsk and Luhansk envoys to the Minsk Group peace talks mediated by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Donetsk had planned elections on Oct. 18 and Luhansk on Nov. 1.

In exchange for postponing the vote, the separatists say Ukraine must grant special status to the region, broadly called Donbass, as envisioned by Minsk Group accords.

"This paves the way for Ukraine's return to Donbass by helping to conduct the election in accordance with Ukrainian law, on the basis of OSCE standards and certainly without the occupation forces," Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said.

Leonid Slutsky, a top member of the foreign affairs committee in Russia's parliament, said he welcomed the move, "but I have doubts about how much capacity Poroshenko has to fulfill his obligations."