Turchinov, who deems the vote in the Russian-speaking Donetsk and
Luhansk regions illegal, urged the population to accept "round
table" talks on greater autonomy. But, in reference to fighters who
have seized police and government buildings, he said "terrorists"
could not be included.
The vote, organized on a largely ad hoc basis with no clear control
of authenticity of ballot papers or voter lists, could have serious
consequences for Ukraine and relations between Moscow and the West.
It risks turning isolated clashes into civil war.
"(Secession from Ukraine)...would be a step into the abyss for these
regions," Turchinov said on his website. "Those who stand for
self-rule do not understand that it would mean complete destruction
of the economy, social programs and life in general for the majority
of the population in these regions."
The atmosphere in major cities across the region was tense though
there were no reports of fighting in the morning.
In the port city of Mariupol, where between seven and 20 people were
killed in fierce fighting on Friday, rebels blocked the streets with
barricades of tires, garbage containers and chairs. Smoke was still
coming from the partially burnt-out administration building. There
was no sign of Ukrainian forces.
The barricades were manned by a handful of pro-Russians, some with
batons or clubs, wearing motorcycle helmets. No gunmen were visible.
Video on the YouTube site showed an armored car captured by rebels
set on fire and ammunition exploding.
Throughout the city of Slaviansk, the most heavily defended
separatist redoubt, streets were barricaded with tires, furniture,
cars and scrap iron.
In the city of Donetsk, rebels released several members of the Red
Cross whom they held for seven hours, one having been beaten, a Red
Cross official in Kiev said.
Western states prepared to step up pressure on Russia, whom they
accuse of engineering the crisis to destabilize Ukraine. Russia
denies involvement but voices support for insurgents it says are
defending themselves against fascist Ukrainian forces.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois
Hollande said that if May 25 national polls failed to go ahead
because of the rebellion, this would further unsettle the country.
In that case, they would be "ready to take further sanctions against
Western countries are expected to announce new economic sanctions
over President Vladimir Putin's actions over Ukraine.
[to top of second column]
The European Union has so far imposed asset freezes and visa bans on
48 Russians and Ukrainians over Moscow's annexation of Crimea. EU
diplomats say new sanctions will for the first time target
The national polls are seen in Kiev as a way of
establishing a fully legitimate, universally elected government
following pro-Kremlin president Viktor Yanukovich's flight to Russia
in February under pressure from pro-Western demonstrations.
In the largely rebel-controlled regions of Donetsk and Lugansk,
which have declared a breakaway "People's Republic of Donetsk",
preparations went ahead for Sunday's self-rule referendum, though
there was widespread uncertainty about what the question on the
ballot paper meant:
"Do you support the act of self-rule of the People's Republic of
Some people interpret it as a vote for more local powers, some for
broad autonomy within Ukraine, some for independence, others still
as a step towards incorporation into Russia.
Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, the rebel mayor of the city of Slaviansk said
he expected a 100 percent turnout. He set out conditions for talks
"The withdrawal of (Ukrainian) forces and exchange of prisoners," he
told a news conference. "Only after fulfillment of these conditions
would we be ready for talks. If the junta continues to retain its
forces here, we will continue to fight."
Ponomaryov has been in the forefront of separatist activity, and
Kiev could place him in the category of "terrorists" who would not
be welcome at the round table for which Kiev is seeking
(Writing by Ralph Boulton; Reporting By Pavel Polityuk and
Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)
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