Ukraine launches air strikes against gunmen

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Ukraine launches air strikes against gunmen
Pro-Russian insurgents aim their rifles during fighting around the airport outside Donetsk, Ukraine, Monday, May 26, 2014. Ukraine's military launched air strikes Monday against the separatists who had taken over the airport in the eastern city of Donetsk, suggesting that fighting in the east is far from over. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
Smoke rises from the airport outside Donetsk, Ukraine, Monday, May 26, 2014. Ukraine's military launched airstrikes Monday against the separatists who had taken over the airport in the eastern city of Donetsk, suggesting that fighting in the east is far from over. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)
Pro-Russian insurgents carrying weapons arrive near the airport outside Donetsk, Ukraine, Monday, May 26, 2014. Ukraine's military launched airstrikes Monday against the separatists who had taken over the airport in the eastern city of Donetsk, suggesting that fighting in the east is far from over. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
Pro-Russian insurgents with weapons arrive near the airport outside Donetsk, Ukraine, Monday, May 26, 2014. Ukraine's military launched airstrikes Monday against the separatists who had taken over the airport in the eastern city of Donetsk, suggesting that fighting in the east is far from over. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
Pro-Russian insurgents on a truck carrying weapons arrive near the airport outside Donetsk, Ukraine, Monday, May 26, 2014. Ukraine's military launched airstrikes Monday against the separatists who had taken over the airport in the eastern city of Donetsk, suggesting that fighting in the east is far from over. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
A pro-Russian insurgent aims his rifle during fighting around the airport outside Donetsk, Ukraine, Monday, May 26, 2014. Ukraine's military launched air strikes Monday against separatists who had taken over the airport in the eastern capital of Donetsk in what appeared to be the most visible operation of the Ukrainian troops since they started a crackdown on insurgents last month. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
Ukrainian policeman and soldiers in a tank stand guard at their newly erected checkpoint near the eastern Ukrainain city of Slavyansk on April 25, 2014. Ukraine's army on April 25 launched an operation to ensnare pro-Russia militants in the flashpoint eastern city of Slavyansk in a bid to prevent reinforcements and keep civilian casualties down, authorities said. AFP PHOTO/ GENYA SAVILOV (Photo credit should read GENYA SAVILOV/AFP/Getty Images)
A Ukraianian soldier in a tank looks on at their newly erected checkpoint near the eastern Ukrainain city of Slavyansk on April 25, 2014. Ukraine's army on April 25 launched an operation to ensnare pro-Russia militants in the flashpoint eastern city of Slavyansk in a bid to prevent reinforcements and keep civilian casualties down, authorities said. AFP PHOTO/ GENYA SAVILOV (Photo credit should read GENYA SAVILOV/AFP/Getty Images)
A pro-Russian armed man in military fatigues stands guard outside the security service (SBU) regional building which was seized by pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk, on April 25, 2014. Seven members of an OSCE observer mission in Ukraine were seized by rebels today and being held in the eastern flashpoint town of Slavyansk, the interior ministry in Kiev said. AFP PHOTO / KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV (Photo credit should read KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images)
Pro-Russian armed men in military fatigues stand guard outside the security service (SBU) regional building which was seized by pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk, on April 25, 2014. Seven members of an OSCE observer mission in Ukraine were seized by rebels today and being held in the eastern flashpoint town of Slavyansk, the interior ministry in Kiev said. AFP PHOTO / KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV (Photo credit should read KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images)
Pro-Ukrainian self defense unit perform unarmed combat drill at their training ground outside Donetsk, Ukraine, Thursday, April 24, 2014. The unit consists of volunteer residents of the Donetsk region to combat pro-Russian insurgents in the Donetsk' region. Ukrainian government troops moved against pro-Russia forces in the east of the country on Thursday and killed at least two of them in clashes at checkpoints manned by the insurgents, the government and insurgents said. Russian President Vladimir Putin decried what he described as a "punitive operation."(AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
A Ukrainian helicopter flies over a column of Ukrainian Army armored vehicles near Slovyansk, Ukraine, Thursday, April 24, 2014. Ukrainian forces launched an operation Thursday to drive pro-Russia insurgents out of occupied buildings in the country's tumultuous east, prompting new threats from Russian President Vladimir Putin. Within hours of the Ukrainian operation, which killed at least two pro-Russia militants, Russia's defense minister announced new military exercises for troops massed near Ukraine's border. (AP Photo/Manu Brabo)
Pro-Ukrainian self defense unit perform weapons exercises at their training ground outside Donetsk, Ukraine, Thursday, April 24, 2014. The unit consists of volunteer residents of the Donetsk region to combat pro-Russian insurgents in the Donetsk' region. Ukrainian government troops moved against pro-Russia forces in the east of the country on Thursday and killed at least two of them in clashes at checkpoints manned by the insurgents, the government and insurgents said. Russian President Vladimir Putin decried what he described as a "punitive operation."(AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
Elena, the widow of slain council man Volodymr Rybak caresses the face of her husband as his body lays in the coffin prior to his funeral after his body was found on Tuesday after his alleged abduction by pro-Russian insurgents in the eastern city of Horlivka, Ukraine, Thursday, April 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Seen through a car window, Ukrainian soldiers block a road near the village of Aleksandrovka, in eastern Ukraine, Thursday, April 24, 2014. Ukrainian government troops moved against pro-Russia forces in the east of the country on Thursday and killed at least two of them in clashes at checkpoints manned by the insurgents, the government and insurgents said. Russian President Vladimir Putin decried what he described as a "punitive operation." (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Seen through a car window, Ukrainian soldiers block a road near the village of Aleksandrovka, in eastern Ukraine, Thursday, April 24, 2014. Ukrainian government troops moved against pro-Russia forces in the east of the country on Thursday and killed at least two of them in clashes at checkpoints manned by the insurgents, the government and insurgents said. Russian President Vladimir Putin decried what he described as a "punitive operation." (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Seen through a car window, Ukrainian soldiers block a road near the village of Aleksandrovka, in eastern Ukraine, Thursday, April 24, 2014. Ukrainian government troops moved against pro-Russia forces in the east of the country on Thursday and killed at least two of them in clashes at checkpoints manned by the insurgents, the government and insurgents said. Russian President Vladimir Putin decried what he described as a "punitive operation." (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Seen through a car window, Ukrainian soldiers inspect a car near the village of Aleksandrovka, in eastern Ukraine, Thursday, April 24, 2014. Ukrainian government troops moved against pro-Russia forces in the east of the country on Thursday and killed at least two of them in clashes at checkpoints manned by the insurgents, the government and insurgents said. Russian President Vladimir Putin decried what he described as a "punitive operation." (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Seen through a car window, Ukrainian soldiers block a road near the village of Aleksandrovka, in eastern Ukraine, Thursday, April 24, 2014. Ukrainian government troops moved against pro-Russia forces in the east of the country on Thursday and killed at least two of them in clashes at checkpoints manned by the insurgents, the government and insurgents said. Russian President Vladimir Putin decried what he described as a "punitive operation." (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Pro-Russian masked gunmen patrols a street in the center of Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine, Wednesday, April 23, 2014. Pro-Russian gunmen in eastern Ukraine admitted on Wednesday that they are holding an American journalist, saying he was suspected of unspecified "bad activities." (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
A pro-Russian masked gunman patrols a street in the center of Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine, Wednesday, April 23, 2014. Pro-Russian gunmen in eastern Ukraine admitted on Wednesday that they are holding an American journalist, saying he was suspected of unspecified "bad activities." (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Supporters of Ukrainian soccer team Shakthar Donetsk chants pro-Ukrainian slogans during the soccer match between Shakthar Donetsk and Tavriya Sinferopol, played in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, Wednesday, April 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Manu Brabo)
A pro-Russian masked gunman patrols a street in the center of Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine, Wednesday, April 23, 2014. Pro-Russian gunmen in eastern Ukraine admitted on Wednesday that they are holding an American journalist, saying he was suspected of unspecified "bad activities." (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Pro-Russian activists guard at a barricade at the regional administration building in Donetsk, Ukraine, Wednesday, April 23, 2014. Pro-Russian gunmen in eastern Ukraine admitted on Wednesday that they are holding an American journalist who has not been seen since early Tuesday. Simon Ostrovsky, a journalist for Vice News, has been covering the crisis in Ukraine for weeks and was reporting about groups of masked gunmen seizing government buildings in eastern Ukrainian. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
A pro-Russian masked gunman mans his post on a street in the center of Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine, Wednesday, April 23, 2014. Pro-Russian gunmen in eastern Ukraine admitted on Wednesday that they are holding American journalist Simon Ostrovsky, saying he was suspected of unspecified "bad activities." (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
A pro-Russian masked gunman patrols a street in the center of Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine, Wednesday, April 23, 2014. Pro-Russian gunmen in eastern Ukraine admitted on Wednesday that they are holding an American journalist, saying he was suspected of unspecified "bad activities." (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Pro-Ukrainian self defense volunteer controls a road on the outskirts of Donetsk, Ukraine, Thursday, April 24, 2014. The unit consists of volunteer residents of the Donetsk region to combat pro-Russian insurgents in the Donetsk' region. Ukrainian government troops moved against pro-Russia forces in the east of the country on Thursday and killed at least two of them in clashes at checkpoints manned by the insurgents, the government and insurgents said. Russian President Vladimir Putin decried what he described as a "punitive operation."(AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
A pro-Ukrainian self defense volunteer watches military exercises at their training ground outside Donetsk, Ukraine, Thursday, April 24, 2014. The unit consists of volunteer residents of the Donetsk region to combat pro-Russian insurgents in the Donetsk' region. Ukrainian government troops moved against pro-Russia forces in the east of the country on Thursday and killed at least two of them in clashes at checkpoints manned by the insurgents, the government and insurgents said. Russian President Vladimir Putin decried what he described as a "punitive operation."(AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
A Ukrainian soldier sits atop of his armored vehicle at a check point near the village of Artemiovska, around 20 km (14 miles) from Slovyansk, Ukraine, Thursday, April 24, 2014. Ukrainian forces launched an operation Thursday to drive pro-Russia insurgents out of occupied buildings in the country's tumultuous east, prompting new threats from Russian President Vladimir Putin. Within hours of the Ukrainian operation, which killed at least two pro-Russia militants, Russia's defense minister announced new military exercises for troops massed near Ukraine's border. (AP Photo/Manu Brabo)
Pro-Russian armed men rest as they guard a checkpoint near Krasny Linam village outside Slovyansk, Ukraine, Thursday, April 24, 2014. Ukrainian forces on Thursday killed at least two pro-Russian insurgents in the country’s tumultuous east, an escalation that prompted Russian President Vladimir Putin to threaten unspecified consequences. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
A pro Russian masked militant directs traffic at a checkpoint following an attack by Ukrainian troops outside Slovyansk, Ukraine, Thursday, April 24, 2014. Ukrainian government troops moved against pro-Russia forces in the east of the country on Thursday and killed at least two of them in clashes at checkpoints manned by the insurgents, the government and insurgents said. Russian President Vladimir Putin decried what he described as a "punitive operation." (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Smoke from burning tires rises as a pro Russian armed militant guards a checkpoint following an attack by Ukrainian troops outside Slovyansk, Ukraine, Thursday, April 24, 2014. Ukrainian government troops moved against pro-Russia forces in the east of the country on Thursday and killed at least two of them in clashes at checkpoints manned by the insurgents, the government and insurgents said. Russian President Vladimir Putin decried what he described as a "punitive operation." (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Pro-Ukrainian self defense unit performs weapons practice at their training ground outside Donetsk, Ukraine, Thursday, April 24, 2014. The unit consists of volunteer residents of the Donetsk region to combat pro-Russian insurgents in the Donetsk' region. Ukrainian government troops moved against pro-Russia forces in the east of the country on Thursday and killed at least two of them in clashes at checkpoints manned by the insurgents, the government and insurgents said. Russian President Vladimir Putin decried what he described as a "punitive operation."(AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
SLOVYANSK, UKRAINE - APRIL 24: A Ukrainian soldier searches a car while he guards a roadblock along the highway on April 24, 2014 near Slovyansk, Ukraine. Today Ukrainian forces began to establish roadblocks around the cities of Slovansk and Donetsk, both strongholds of pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine. The Ukraine government claims 5 separatists were killed during skirmishes with the Ukrainian army in Slovyansk today. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
SLOVYANSK, UKRAINE - APRIL 24: Ukrainian soldiers guard a roadblock along the highway on April 24, 2014 near Slovyansk, Ukraine. Today Ukrainian forces began to establish roadblocks around the cities of Slovansk and Donetsk, both strongholds of pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine. The Ukraine government claims 5 separatists were killed during skirmishes with the Ukrainian army in Slovyansk today. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
SLOVYANSK, UKRAINE - APRIL 24: Ukrainian soldiers guard a roadblock along the highway on April 24, 2014 near Slovyansk, Ukraine. Today Ukrainian forces began to establish roadblocks around the cities of Slovansk and Donetsk, both strongholds of pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine. The Ukraine government claims 5 separatists were killed during skirmishes with the Ukrainian army in Slovyansk today. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
SLOVYANSK, UKRAINE - APRIL 24: Pro-Russian separatist militants fill sand bags to reinforce a checkpoint on April 24, 2014 in Slovyansk, Ukraine. Pro-Russian activists have been occupying government buildings and demanding greater autonomy in many Eastern Ukrainian cities in recent weeks, prompting the government in Kiev to threaten military action to retake control of the cities. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)
SLOVYANSK, UKRAINE - APRIL 24: Ukrainian soldiers guard a roadblock along the highway on April 24, 2014 near Slovyansk, Ukraine. Today Ukrainian forces began to establish roadblocks around the cities of Slovansk and Donetsk, both strongholds of pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine. The Ukraine government claims 5 separatists were killed during skirmishes with the Ukrainian army in Slovyansk today. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
SLOVYANSK, UKRAINE - APRIL 24: A Ukrainian soldier guards a roadblock along the highway on April 24, 2014 near Slovyansk, Ukraine. Today Ukrainian forces began to establish roadblocks around the cities of Slovansk and Donetsk, both strongholds of pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine. The Ukraine government claims 5 separatists were killed during skirmishes with the Ukrainian army in Slovyansk today. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
SWIDWIN, POLAND - APRIL 23: Members of a Polish paratrooper unit march to assemble prior to the arrival of soldiers of the U.S. Army 173rd Airborne Brigade at a Polish air force base on April 23, 2014 in Swidwin, Poland. Approximately 150 U.S. troops, as well as another 450 destined for the three Baltic states in coming days, will participate in bilateral military exercises over the coming weeks in a sign of commitment among NATO members. Tensions are rising in eastern Ukraine between Russian separatists and Ukrainian authorities and NATO is seeking to reassure its own members located close to Russia. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
SWIDWIN, POLAND - APRIL 23: Members of the U.S. Army 173rd Airborne Brigade disembark upon their arrival by plane at a Polish air force base on April 23, 2014 in Swidwin, Poland. Approximately 150 U.S. troops, as well as another 450 destined for the three Baltic states in coming days, will participate in bilateral military exercises over the coming weeks in a sign of commitment among NATO members. Tensions are rising in eastern Ukraine between Russian separatists and Ukrainian authorities and NATO is seeking to reassure its own members located close to Russia. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
A pro-Russian armed militant guards a checkpoint blocking a major highway which links Kharkiv, outside Slovyansk, Ukraine, Monday, May 26, 2014. On Monday, some pro-Russians blocked off the road to the airport in Donetsk, a major eastern city, causing delays to many flights. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
Pro-Russian insurgents arrive with weapons, near the airport outside Donetsk, Ukraine, Monday, May 26, 2014. Ukraine's military launched airstrikes Monday against the separatists who had taken over the airport in the eastern city of Donetsk, suggesting that fighting in the east is far from over. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)
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DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) - Ukraine's new president-elect on Monday promised to negotiate an end to a pro-Russia insurgency in the east, saying he was willing to begin talks with Moscow, while the Kiev government launched an air strike on militants who occupied a major airport.

Russia quickly welcomed Petro Poroshenko's offer for talks, raising hopes that his election will indeed ease the protracted crisis that has fueled tensions unseen since the end of the Cold War.

But Ukraine's military launched airstrikes Monday against separatists who had taken over the airport in the eastern capital of Donetsk in what appeared to be the most visible operation of the Ukrainian troops since they started a crackdown on insurgents last month.

In Donetsk, a city of one million, sustained artillery and gun fire was heard from the airport. Fighter jets and military helicopters were seen flying overhead, and dense black smoke rose in the air.

An Associated Press journalist saw several vehicles full of dozens of heavily armed men arrive to the area adjacent to the airport. Half an hour later, several flatbed trucks full of reinforcements came in.

Vladislav Seleznyov, a spokesman for Kiev's anti-terrorist operation, wrote on his Facebook account that the military had given an ultimatum to the armed men who had occupied the airport to lay down their arms. He said the gunmen didn't comply and the military launched an air strike.

Denis Pushilin, a leader of the separatists, said they had sent their men to the airport after some of their supporters were detained.

Many flights to or from Donetsk were delayed or canceled on Monday. Access to the airport was blocked by police.

In Kiev, international observers hailed Ukraine's presidential vote as a "genuine election," saying it was held freely and fairly.

Candy magnate Poroshenko, known for his pragmatism, supports building strong ties with Europe but also has stressed the importance of mending relations with Moscow. Upon claiming victory in Sunday's vote, he said his first step as president would be to visit the Donbass eastern industrial region, where pro-Russia separatists have seized government buildings, declared independence and battled government troops in weeks of fighting.

"Peace in the country and peace in the east is my main priority," Poroshenko said Monday, signaling that he would bring to an end the Ukrainian army's much-criticized campaign to drive out the armed pro-Russia separatists.

The tycoon looked decidedly cool and composed Sunday night when the exit poll results were announced. On Monday, he got emotional when he was asked about the crisis in the east.

"The anti-terrorist operation cannot and should not last two or three months," he said. "It should and will last hours."

The military operation has caused civilian deaths and destroyed property - angering many eastern residents - while still failing to crush the rebellion.

The president-elect also had harsh words for the pro-Russia gunmen, comparing them to Somalian pirates.

"Their goal is to turn Donbass into a Somalia where they would rule with the power of machine guns. l will never allow that to happen on the territory of Ukraine," Poroshenko said, adding that he hoped Russia would support his efforts to stabilize the east.

Poroshenko's spokesman Andriy Zhigulin told the Associated Press that the date for his inauguration has not been set yet.

In Moscow, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Russia appreciated Poroshenko's statements about the importance of Ukraine's ties with Russia and his pledge to negotiate an end to fighting in the east.

"We are ready for dialogue with representatives of Kiev, with Petro Poroshenko," Lavrov said at a briefing, adding it was a chance that "cannot be wasted." He emphasized that Moscow saw no need for any involvement by the United States or the European Union in those talks.

"We don't need any mediators," he said pointedly.

Lavrov also noted Russia's longstanding call for the Kiev government to end its military operation in eastern Ukraine.

The rebels had vowed to block Sunday's voting in the east. Less than 20 percent of the polling stations were open there after gunmen intimidated residents by smashing ballot boxes, shutting down polling centers and issuing threats.

But nationwide, about 60 percent of Ukraine's 35.5 million eligible voters turned out Sunday, and long lines snaked around polling stations in the pro-Western capital, Kiev.

Joao Soares, special coordinator for the OSCE observer mission in Kiev, hailed Sunday's vote and "a clear resolve of the authorities which resulted in a genuine election largely in line with international commitments."

"Ukrainian authorities should be commended for their efforts in the extraordinary circumstances to facilitate an election" which was held in parts of Ukraine's volatile east, Soares said.

He said monitors did see multiple threats, intimidation and abduction of election officials in the east, which is overrun by pro-Russian militia.

With votes from 75 percent of the precincts counted Monday, Poroshenko was leading with about 54 percent in the field of 21 candidates. Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was running a distant second with 13 percent. If those results hold, Poroshenko would avoid a runoff election next month. Election officials said official results would be announced by June 5.

Speaking to reporters, Poroshenko struck a tone of unity Monday, saying he had no "rivals or political opponents in the race" and all of the other main candidates have congratulated him on his win.

"More than ever, Ukraine now needs to be united," he said.

The election, which came three months after pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych was chased from office by crowds following months of street protests and allegations of corruption, was seen as a critical step toward resolving Ukraine's protracted crisis.

Since his ouster in February, Russia has annexed the Crimea Peninsula in southern Ukraine, the eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk have declared their independence from Kiev, and the interim Ukrainian government has launched an offensive in the east to quash an uprising.

The interim Kiev government and the West have accused Russia of backing the separatist uprising. Moscow has denied the accusations.

President Barack Obama praised Ukrainians for participating in the voting "despite provocations and violence." Obama said the U.S. supports Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, rejects Russia's "occupation and attempted annexation of Crimea" and is eager to work with the next president.

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