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Putin: Ukraine’s enormous debt threatens Europe gas supplies
Crisis » U.S. condemns “Russia’s efforts to use energy as a tool of coercion against Ukraine.”

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U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Thursday that Washington is "taking immediate steps to assist Ukraine, including the provision of emergency finance and technical assistance." She added that the U.S. is also trying to encourage Ukraine’s western neighbors to "reverse natural gas flows in the pipeline so that Ukraine can access additional gas supplies if needed."

In other news Thursday:

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— Ukraine’s acting president Oleksandr Turchynov said pro-Russian activists occupying government buildings in the eastern cities of Donetsk and Luhansk will not be prosecuted if they lay down their arms. Protest leaders defied the request to leave.

— Tensions were still high in Donetsk, where about 1,000 protesters stood outside the occupied building chanting "Russia! Russia!" Activists also reinforced the barricades, piling up rubber tires or building brick walls out of cobblestones. They have demanded a referendum on broader autonomy or even secession from the new Kiev authorities.

— Ukraine’s Deputy Interior Minister Serhiy Yarovyi said authorities are still hoping for a compromise in both Donetsk and Luhansk but they reserve the right to forcibly seize the buildings.

— In northwest Romania, some 450 U.S. and Romanian troops and technical staff kicked off a week of joint military exercises, flying U.S. F-16 fighter jets alongside Romanian ones. Romania, Russia and Ukraine all border the Black Sea.

—NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen again condemned Russia for its annexation of Crimea as he visited Prague to assure the Czechs of support against any moves by Russia to expand its orbit of influence.

—The Council of Europe rights group voted to suspend Russia’s participation for the rest of the year.

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