Kerry lashes out at sectarian, anti-Semitic actions in Ukraine

(Photo: REUTERS / Denis Balibouse)U.S. Secretary of State REUTERS / Denis Balibouse speaks to the media next to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton after talks on the situation in Ukraine, in Geneva April 17, 2014.

GENEVA - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has castigated anti-Semitic and sectarian actions in Ukraine involving leaflets handed to Jews and threats between members of different Orthodox churches.

He said Russian, the United States the European Union and Ukraine have rejected extremism, racism, and religious intolerance, including anti-Semitism in troubled Ukraine.

Kerry made his remarks Thursday after four-party talks in Geneva with EU High Representative Catherine Ashton seeking to "to de-escalate the situation in Ukraine."

"We have agreed to take in the course of the discussions today in order to de-escalate the tensions and restore security for all Ukrainians," said the Secretary of State at a press conference.

"The parties agreed today that all sides must refrain from the use of violence, intimidation, or provocative actions.

"And we strongly condemned and rejected all expressions of extremism, racism, and religious intolerance, including anti-Semitism.

He noted that in the days preceding Geneva meeting notices were sent to Jews in one city indicating that had to identify themselves as Jews.

"And obviously, the accompanying threat implied is - or threatened - or suffer the consequences, one way or the other.

"In the year 2014, after all of the miles traveled and all of the journey of history, this is not just intolerable; it's grotesque. It is beyond unacceptable."

There is no place for such activities and Kerry said "unanimously, every party today joined in this condemnation of that kind of behavior."

He added, "In addition, recently, the Ukrainian – the Russian Orthodox Church members in Ukraine were threatened that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was somehow going to attack them in the course of the next days."

Such threats were grotesque and will not survive in the direction Ukraine seeks, he said.

The four parties at Thursday's talks reached agreement on a series of immediate steps aimed at defusing tensions that threatened war in eastern Ukraine.

The surprise deal, calls for the disarming of all illegal groups. They will have to leave all government areas they occupied since the crisis in Ukraine threatened relations with ethnic Russians and Ukrainians.

Pro-Russian separatists from Donetsk in eastern Ukraine denied any involvement in the circulation of flyers calling on Jews to register with separatists and pay special taxes, Reuters news agency reported.

The flyers that looked like official documents were distributed in the city, where pro-Russian separatists led by Denis Pushilin this month took over several government buildings, declaring their secession from Ukraine as the Donetsk Republic.

About 34 percent of Ukraine's population of some 44 million are thought to be believers in a religion.

Those affiliated with the Kiev Patriarchate amount to 39 percent of believers, while just over 29 percent are with the Moscow Patriarchate, which does not recognize the Ukrainian Orthodox church.

Jews account for only 0.2 percent of the population and there are thought to be around 100,000 followers of Judaism in Ukraine.

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