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Pressure mounts on Russia as Ukraine rebels launch offensive

World leaders ramped up pressure on Moscow Sunday to stop pro-Kremlin rebels from embarking on a major new offensive in eastern Ukraine after rocket fire killed at least 30 people in a strategic government-held port.

The mayor of Mariupol’s office said 97 people were also wounded by dozens of long-distance rockets that smashed into a packed residential district early in the morning and then again shortly after noon.

“Obviously, everyone in the city is very scared,” Eduard, a native of the city of half a million, told AFP.

A fellow resident named Pavlo described dazed survivors helping wounded victims to climb out of the concrete rubble of Soviet-era apartment blocks and navigate streets strewn with shattered glass.

No group has claimed responsibility for the bloodshed, but the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said the rocket fire came from two locations “controlled by the ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’”.

The attack on the last Kiev-controlled major city in Ukraine’s restive east, which links separatist territory with Russian-occupied Crimea, drew ire from Western leaders, who blame Moscow for stoking the conflict that has claimed more than 5,000 lives.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, cutting short a trip to Saudi Arabia to chair an emergency National Security and Defence Council meeting in Kiev, vowed to “defend our motherland the way real patriots do — until a full victory”.

US Vice President Joe Biden, after a phone call with Poroshenko, warned that costs would “continue to rise” for Russia, which the White House accuses of sending troops and weapons to help the separatists — a change Moscow has repeatedly denied.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also denounced the rebel groups for launching a fresh offensive, in violation of a September peace treaty, “and particularly their provocative statements about claiming further territory”.

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