Separatists take buildings in 10 cities

RICHARD BALMFORTH AND CONOR HUMPHRIES
Last updated 17:05 17/04/2014
Reuters

Ukrainian government forces and separatist pro-Russian militia stage rival shows of force in eastern Ukraine on the eve of crucial talks on the country's future. Mana Rabiee reports.

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Shooting broke out overnight near a base of the Ukrainian national guard which came under attack by pro-Russian separatists, Interfax news agency said on Thursday (local time).

The Ukranian interior ministry said at least three pro-Russian militants have been killed and 13 wounded at Mariupol on the Azov Sea.

The Ukranian ministry said the shooting broke out after the separatists tried to storm the base. It ended in the early hours of the morning.

Earlier, the interior ministry said in a statement that a crowd of armed protesters arrived at the base and demanded that the national guard troops back their revolt against the country’s new pro-Western government.

When the crowd refused to disperse and tried to enter the base, the national guard troops shot into the air, the statement said.

Pro-Russian separatists have taken over buildings in at least 10 cities in Eastern Ukraine, attacks the Ukrainian government has said are orchestrated by Russian agents.  The Mariupol city administration is already under the control of separatists.

Russia says the attacks are spontaneous protests by Russian speakers angry at the country’s new government, which is more popular in the Ukrainian speaking west of the country. 

Separatists flew the Russian flag on armoured vehicles taken from the Ukrainian army on Wednesday (local time), humiliating a Kiev government operation to recapture eastern towns controlled by pro-Moscow partisans.

Six armoured personnel carriers were driven into the rebel-held town of Slaviansk to waves and shouts of "Russia! Russia!". It was not immediately clear whether they had been captured by rebels or handed over to them by Ukrainian deserters.

Another 15 armoured troop carriers full of paratroops were surrounded and halted by a pro-Russian crowd at a town near an airbase. They were allowed to retreat only after the soldiers handed the firing pins from their rifles to a rebel commander.

The military setback leaves Kiev looking weak for a peace conference on Thursday, when its foreign minister will meet his Russian, US and European counterparts in Geneva.

Moscow has responded to the overthrow of its ally Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich in February by announcing its right to intervene militarily to protect Russian speakers across the former Soviet Union, a new doctrine that has overturned decades of post-Cold War diplomacy.

Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea peninsula last month, and its armed supporters have now taken control over swathes of Ukraine's eastern industrial heartland.

It has massed thousands of troops on near the Ukrainian frontier. A Reuters reporting team that visited the border area late last week and again on Wednesday said Russian military activity had increased markedly over the past few days, with more troops and vehicles on the roads.

At one site in an open field in Russia's Belgorod region about 20 km (12 miles) from the frontier there were now 10 large army tents and about 20 military trucks, far more than last week, although a squadron of attack helicopters had left.

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- Reuters

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