DONETSK, Ukraine: Ukraine’s prime minister resigned Thursday after his governing coalition collapsed, plunging the ex-Soviet state into political limbo as it struggles to quell a deadly rebellion in the east.
The shock announcement added to an already chaotic situation in the rebel-controlled east, where international experts are carrying out a complex investigation into the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 that left 298 dead.
Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said he was stepping down over “dissolution of the parliamentary coalition and the blocking of government initiatives” after several parties walked out on the ruling group.
The collapse of the ruling coalition paves the way for early elections to be called by President Petro Poroshenko within 30 days.
Although a truce has been declared by both rebels and government forces in the immediate vicinity of the crash site, heavy shelling was ongoing nearby, including around Donetsk, just 60 km from the scene.
Ukraine’s army reported four soldiers killed over the last 24 hours in its offensive to retake the eastern industrial heartland from pro-Russian insurgents.
Countries which lost 298 citizens in the disaster are looking to deploy armed police to secure the impact zone, with the Dutch drawing up a U.N. resolution on the proposal and Australia already putting 50 officers on standby in London.
“On the site it is still clear that nothing is happening without the approval of the armed rebels who brought the plane down in the first place,” said Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, whose country lost 28 citizens in the crash.
“There has still not been anything like a thorough professional search of the area where the plane went down, and there can’t be while the site is controlled by armed men with vested interest in the outcome of the investigation.”
Kiev said two fighter jets that were downed Wednesday were hit by missiles launched from Russian territory, and that while the pilots ejected safely, there was no information about their whereabouts.
The EU, which accuses Russia of fanning the rebellion in Ukraine’s east by arming the separatists, will add 15 Ukrainian and Russian individuals and 18 entities to its sanctions list, a source from the bloc said.
The move came just a week after the EU unveiled a round of toughened embargoes against Moscow.
In the debate over more sanctions, Britain ruffled feathers in neighboring France over its push for an EU arms embargo, as Paris is keen to go ahead with its sale of two warships to Russia.
Poroshenko said he was “very disappointed” at France’s insistence on the deal, saying: “It’s not a question of money, industry or jobs. It’s a question of values.”
U.S. intelligence officials have said they believe the rebels mistakenly shot down the Malaysia Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur with a surface-to-air missile provided by Russia.
Moscow has denied the charges and Putin has pledged to “do everything” to influence the separatists and ensure a full probe into the crash.
The first bodies from last Thursday’s crash arrived in the Netherlands Wednesday to a solemn ceremony. Dozens more were flown there Thursday to undergo an identification process that Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has warned could take months.
Dutch police have also been visiting relatives of the victims to retrieve DNA samples, as well as consulting medical and dental records to help with the identification.