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Ukraine, Alstom to figure during two-day talks between Merkel and Hollande

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BERLIN - The crisis in Ukraine featured prominently as French President Francois Hollande began a two-day visit to Germany on Friday.

One of the main talking points between Hollande and Chancellor Angela Merkel is expected to be over whether the European Union should impose further sanctions on Russia, for its involvement in the Ukraine crisis.

The program for Hollande's visit to Merkel's scenic home constituency on the Baltic coast featured ample photo opportunities to underline the two leaders' friendship, including a boat trip, a walk along the pier and a church visit.

Germany's conservative chancellor and France's socialist president haven't always seen eye-to-eye, but with tensions acute on the European Union's eastern edge, the relationship between the bloc's two most powerful leaders has gained importance.

"(We are) on the path toward the new Europe, that we want to build together," Hollande told reporters in the town of Sassnitz on Ruegen, an island in Germany's far northeast. "In the meantime, (we want) to discuss the most sensitive political issues — and I'm thinking about Ukraine of course."

Germany has warned that unless Russia makes good on its pledges to help calm the situation in Ukraine, it could face a third stage of sanctions that would target its economy. Moscow has backed pro-Russian insurgents in eastern Ukraine and annexed the Crimean Peninsula.

Merkel and Hollande are also likely to revisit the failed bid last month by German engineering firm Siemens for its French counterpart Alstom. Alstom's management favours a rival offer from U.S. company General Electric, but the French government has made clear its opposition to a trans-Atlantic takeover.

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