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500 observers off to Ukraine

Canada will send up to 500 people to monitor Ukraine's presidential election next month, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Wednesday.

The Canadian delegation is to include up to 338 people in an election observation mission.

"Canada is a world leader in helping to promote democracy and good governance in Ukraine," Harper said in a statement.

"The measures announced today will help ensure that the upcoming Ukrainian elections are free and fair and that democracy and governance are the cornerstones of the new government."

Another group of up to 150 observers and 12 parliamentarians will join a election-monitoring mission from the Organization for Security Co-operation in Europe.

The government has earmarked $11 million to cover the costs of the observers.

The election is scheduled for May 25 and comes amid growing concerns about separatist tensions in the eastern part of the country.

Harper said Canada wants to ensure that Ukrainians can freely choose a leader without coercion or intimidation.

The prime minister has taken a keen interest in the Ukraine crisis. Last month, he made a whirlwind visit to Ukraine, where he met acting president Oleksandr Turchynov and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.

Russia officially annexed Crimea last month and there are concerns it may have its sights on more of the country.

Harper has taken a hard line against Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying his regime is a threat to world peace. Canada and Russia have also been engaged in a tit-for-tat exchange of expelled diplomats of late.

The most recent move came Tuesday when Russia expelled a first secretary at the Canadian Embassy in Moscow, an apparent retaliation for the earlier expulsion of a Russian military attache from Ottawa.

Canada has also imposed a number of political and economic sanctions against senior officials and so institutions in Russia and Ukraine.

Harper has also pledged support for efforts to stabilize the Ukrainian economy.

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