Acting president Oleksander Turchinov also held out the
possibility of a referendum on the future shape of the Ukrainian
state, partly addressing demands made in the largely
Russian-speaking east for more control over their local affairs.
As the 9 a.m. deadline issued by authorities in Kiev expired, a
Reuters reporter in the flashpoint city of Slaviansk, where armed
men had seized two government buildings, saw nothing to show the
rebels were obeying the ultimatum.
At least 100 pro-Russian separatists attacked the police
headquarters in the city of Horlivka on Monday, a witness told
Reuters, and video footage on Ukrainian television showed an
ambulance treating people apparently injured in the attack.
In all, separatists have seized government buildings and security
facilities in 10 cities.
Angered by the death of a state security officer and the wounding of
two comrades near Slaviansk, Turchinov warned rebels that an
anti-terrorist operation involving the army would begin unless they
laid down their arms, and that the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine
"will soon be stabilized".
His warning raised fears of possible Russian military intervention,
but there were no signs of any Ukrainian forces in Slaviansk on
Monday and no sign of an anti-terrorist operation.
Outside the city council offices stood a group of about 12 armed men
in matching camouflage fatigues, with black balaclavas, one of whom
was holding a Russian flag.
They said they were Cossacks but did not say where from. One told
Reuters: "The borders between Ukraine, Russia and Belarus are
artificial and we are here to take them away."
The new element in the operation announced by Turchinov is the
inclusion of the army which has not been involved in more than four
months of turmoil and is untested in dealing with internal disorder.
The move to bring in the army shows a lack of confidence in the
30,000-strong interior ministry troops which have been discredited
by identification with the leadership of ousted president Viktor
Turchinov and other leaders blame Russia, which annexed Ukraine's
Crimea region when Moscow-backed Yanukovich fled after months of
pro-Western protests, for inspiring and organizing a rash of
rebellions in Slaviansk and other Russian-speaking towns in eastern
Turchinov said the Kiev leadership was "not against" a nationwide
referendum being held on the type of state Ukraine should be and
added he was sure it would confirm the wish of the majority for a
united, independent country.
The holding of a referendum has been one of the demands of the
separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine, although they envisage a poll
being held only in their home region. Turchinov such a referendum
could be held at the same time as a presidential election on May 25.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Ukraine's
Russian-speaking eastern regions should be involved in drafting a
constitution that should be put to the referendum.
Lavrov said it was not in Russia's interests for Ukraine to break
up, but Moscow wanted all citizens of the country to be given equal
treatment by Kiev.
He denied Ukrainian and U.S. allegations that Russia had undercover
agents fomenting unrest in eastern Ukraine, and said he was seeking
explanation of media reports that the director of the CIA, John
Brennan, had visited Kiev.
[to top of second column]
The crisis in Ukraine has brought relations between Russia and the
West to their worst since the end of the Cold War in 1991, and also
risks unleashing a "gas war" which could disrupt energy supplies
across Europe. Ukraine said on Saturday it would stop paying for
Russian gas because the price was too high.
Russian stocks and the ruble fell sharply on Monday, reflecting
fears of further Russian military intervention in Ukraine and more
western sanctions against Moscow.
Use of force by Kiev's pro-Europe authorities could trigger a fresh
confrontation from Russia. Russia's foreign ministry called the
planned military operation a "criminal order" and said the West
should bring its allies in Ukraine's government under control.
The United Nations Security Council held an emergency session on
Sunday night, and the United States warned that it was likely to
impose further sanctions on Russians close to the Kremlin if the
escalation in eastern Ukraine continues.
European Union foreign ministers were due to discuss whether to
impose further sanctions on Moscow.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the destabilization of
eastern Ukraine was clearly being instigated by Russia, adding: "I
don't think denials of Russian involvement have a shred of
German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel warned of an escalation of the
crisis in Ukraine, saying "Russia was clearly prepared to allow
tanks to roll across European borders".
In Slaviansk as of 9 a.m. local time on Monday, a Russian flag still
flew over police headquarters, one of two buildings taken over by
the separatists in the town, while masked men continued to man
barricades of sandbags in front of it.
Even as the deadline passed, a truck appeared bringing more tires to
heap on top of the barricades to reinforce them.
There was tension in the air as people tried to go about their
normal business, though school and colleges have been closed and
parents advised to keep their children indoors.
Alexei Myzenko, a 38-year-old bank teller, was at work as usual, but
he said he and his wife had told their son, who is at university in
the eastern town of Kharkiv, not to attend lectures on Monday.
"We didn't want anything to happen to him," said Myzenko. "Of
course, some people are afraid. But they are still lining up to get
their pensions," he said.
Myzenko said his wife, who is a teacher, had been called by the town
administration to tell her that school was canceled until further
Iryna Zemlyanskaya, 62, who works as a pharmacist, said: "I am going
to work. They've promised to use force so many times and have not
done a single thing. No one's even afraid anymore."
(Writing by Richard Balmforth; editing by Giles Elgood)
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