Ukraine president to be at World Cup final in Rio

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) -- Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko will attend the World Cup final in Rio de Janeiro -- along with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Brazilian authorities said Saturday.

An official in Brazil's government with direct knowledge of the trip and a press officer for Brazil's Foreign Ministry both confirmed that Poroshenko would be at the match.

The World Cup final pits Argentina against Germany -- and it was German Chancellor Angela Merkel who persuaded Poroshenko to attend the game, the government official said. He said Merkel, Putin and Poroshenko, along with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and other heads of state, would be circulating in the same VIP area at Maracana stadium.

However, no direct meeting between Putin and Poroshenko was known to have been arranged, the official said.

The Foreign Ministry press officer said Poroshenko might not arrive in time for a pre-game lunch on Sunday to be hosted by Rousseff for several heads of state, including Putin and Merkel.

Citing ministry rules, the press officer would not allow his name to be used. The government official agreed to discuss the event only if he was not identified because he was not authorized to reveal the information.

Tension between Russia and Ukraine escalated in February when protests by people who wanted closer ties with the European Union drove pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych from office. Russia called that an illegal coup and seized Ukraine's Crimea region, saying it was protecting the rights of people there who speak Russian as their main language.

Since then, fighting between pro-Russia rebels and Ukrainian government troops has killed more than 400 people in eastern Ukraine, while tens of thousands have fled their homes, in many cases crossing the border into Russia.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, accompanying Putin on a trip to Argentina ahead of their visit to Brazil for a summit of the BRICS nations, told the Russian news agency ITAR-Tass that a meeting between Putin and Poroshenko was not yet planned. But he left open the possibility, saying Putin remains ready for comprehensive talks on Ukraine at anytime, anywhere.

The foreign ministers of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine earlier this month all called for the re-start of peace talks on the situation in Ukraine. Two rounds of talks have failed.

Meanwhile, violence in Ukraine continues.

On Saturday, at least four people were killed by artillery fire in an overnight attack in Maryinka, a suburb of Donetsk where pro-Russia insurgents are holed up. The attack happened hours after Poroshenko vowed vengeance for the deaths of 19 troops in an insurgent rocket attack near the Russian border.

Putin, whose nation will host the 2018 World Cup, is attending Sunday's final to take part in a handover ceremony with Rousseff and FIFA President Sepp Blatter.

Before the game, Rousseff will host a lunch for several leaders, including Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel -- and possibly Poroshenko if he arrives in Rio on time.

The Brazilian Foreign Ministry press officer said he did not have information on the seating arrangements at either the stadium or at the lunch.

"So I can't tell you where Putin, Poroshenko and Merkel will be sitting. It will be interesting to see," he said.

Merkel, along with French President Francois Hollande, have been the two key European leaders in trying to bring the conflict in Ukraine to an end.

The rhetoric on both sides is increasingly intransigent.

On Saturday, the European Union moved to impose sanctions on 11 leaders of the pro-Moscow rebellion. The names published in the EU's Official Journal brought the total of people subject to the bloc's Ukraine-related sanctions to 72, along with two companies whose EU-based assets have been ordered frozen.

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Associated Press writer Bradley Brooks reported this story in Rio de Janeior and Stan Lehman reported from Sao Paulo.

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Bradley Brooks on Twitter: www.twitter.com/bradleybrooks

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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