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AP Interview: Freed prisoner Savchenko calls for early elections in Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine — Pilot Nadiya Savchenko on Friday called for early parliamentary elections in Ukraine to "infuse fresh blood" into its politics, a call that may send shock waves across the volatile nation.

Savchenko, who has become a national icon in Ukraine after spending two years in a Russian prison, told The Associated Press that the "Ukrainian people deserve a better government than they now have."

She said the government has failed public expectations raised by the ouster of Ukraine's former Moscow-friendly president in February 2014, who was driven from power by massive street protests.

Savchenko was elected into Parliament on a ticket of Yulia Tymoshenko's political party soon after her Russian ordeal began.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and his allies in the ruling parliament coalition strongly oppose early elections, arguing that they would only foment instability and deepen Ukraine's economic crisis. With the popularity of Poroshenko and his coalition partners sinking amid the economic troubles, an early vote will likely leave them with far fewer seats in Parliament.

Savchenko's broad popularity, energy and charisma could now reconsolidate those unhappy with the status quo and raise pressure for an early election. She already has declared presidential ambitions, aspiring to become a voice for masses angry with endemic corruption, which has run amok despite official promises to eradicate it.

She didn't say when she thinks the early vote should be held, and described her relationship with Poroshenko as "business-like."

Savchenko was captured by Russia-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine in June 2014 while serving in a volunteer battalion, and ended up in a Russian jail soon after. In March, she was convicted of acting as a spotter for mortar fire that killed two Russian journalists and sentenced to 22 years in a Russian prison.

Savchenko was released last month after being pardoned on humanitarian grounds by Russian President Vladimir Putin — he said at the urging of the journalists' relatives — and traded for two Russian military men convicted in Ukraine. She received a hero's welcome in Kiev and began working in Parliament.

Savchenko told the AP that the U.S. and its allies should exert more pressure on Russia to make it honor a Ukraine peace deal to avert what she described as the danger of another world war over Ukraine.

At the same time, Savchenko said she is willing to talk with rebel leaders in eastern Ukraine to discuss exchange of prisoners and said that rebels who haven't committed war crimes could be amnestied.