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Rebels no longer demanding full independence

Monday - 9/1/2014, 1:10pm  ET

MOSCOW (AP) -- Pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine are backing away from their demand for full independence. At the start of negotiations in Belarus, the rebels say they will respect Ukraine's sovereignty, in exchange for autonomy.

It's a shift that reflects Moscow's desire to strike a deal at a new round of peace talks -- possibly avoiding tougher Western sanctions. The talks follow last week's meeting between the presidents of Russia and Ukraine. Similar talks earlier this summer produced no visible results.

And even as the talks began, the rebels pushed Ukrainian government forces from an airport near the second-largest rebel-held city. It's the latest in a series of military gains by the rebels.

The talks involve only eastern Ukraine. There are no negotiations on handing back Crimea -- the Black Sea peninsula that Russia annexed in March. That cost Ukraine several major ports and half of its coastline.

Today's talks lasted for several hours, before being adjourned until Friday.

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APPHOTO XSG115: A Pro-Russian rebel holds ammunition in the village of Hrabske, eastern Ukraine, Sunday, Aug. 31, 2014. The fight for Ilovaisk and surrounding areas, including the village of Hrabske, between Ukrainian government troops and pro-Russian separatist fighters was bitter and lasted the best part of a month. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits) (31 Aug 2014)

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