KIEV - Ukraine's interim president on Monday signalled support for a national referendum on turning the ex-Soviet republic into a federation with broader rights for its heavily Russified east.
Pro-Kremlin militias who have seized government buildings in regions such as Donetsk are demanding local referendums on either broader local rights or an option to join the Russian Federation.
Acting President Oleksandr Turchynov stopped well short of giving in to these demands by signalling support for a national referendum on Ukraine's future status - a vote whose outcome is far less certain because most in Kiev and the Ukrainian speaking west reject the idea of federalisation.
Turchynov suggested that the national vote could coincide with snap presidential polls that Ukraine is set to hold on May 25 following the February ouster of Russian-backed president Viktor Yanukovych.
"In recent days, there has been a lot of talk about a national referendum," Turchynov told leading lawmakers in nationally televised remarks.
"We are not against holding a national referendum that - if parliament adopts the corresponding decision - could be held together with the presidential elections," said Turchynov.
"I am certain that a majority of Ukrainians will support an indivisible, independent, democratic and united Ukraine," he added. "This is my conviction, and I think that all those present share my view."
Pro-Kremlin protesters in the region fear a loss of their rights to speak Russian and the collapse of an already depressed economy if their government cuts ties with their close and historical ally Moscow.
Ukraine's new leaders have already struck a political partnership deal with the European Union and are expected to sign an economic relations and trade agreement later this year.