Ukraine: Pro-Russians Storm Govt Offices
Masked pro-Russian demonstrators have stormed government buildings in three major cities in eastern Ukraine.Dozens of people armed with sticks and rocks broke through police lines during a pro-Russian rally to surge into a regional government office in Donetsk, roughly 80 kilometres (50 miles) west of the Russian border
Some of the protesters were chanting “Donetsk is a Russian city” as they climbed to the roof, where they waved the Russian flag.
They then threw firecrackers at around 200 police officers surrounding the building.
Government buildings were also seized in Lugansk and Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city.
Ukraine’s Acting President Oleksandr Turchynov has cancelled a trip to Lithuania to deal with the latest violence. He has called an emergency meeting of security chiefs in Ukraine’s capital Kiev.
Several eastern cities have seen regular protests since former Ukrainian president and Kremlin ally Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in February.
A subsequent referendum which saw Crimea secede Ukraine and join the Russian Federation has led to calls for similar referenda across the region, where half of the residents are ethnic Russians.
Sunday’s protest in Donetsk attracted some 2,000 people.
Many, waving Russian flags, shouted “Give us a referendum” and “NATO go home”.
In Lugansk several men broke down the doors of the regional government building while others pelted its windows with stones and eggs.
A smoke grenade and firebomb were also set off. Police responded with tear gas.
Protesters were calling for the release of 15 pro-Russian activists who were arrested earlier this week.
Police said they were planning to seize the city’s main administration building with the use of “arms and explosives”.
Similar unrest was also reported in Kharkiv, less than an hour’s drive from the Russian border.
Western countries and Ukraine’s interim government fear that growing unrest in the east could prompt Russian President Vladimir Putin to send troops to the region to follow through with his promise to protect its ethnic Russian population.
The US says Russia has already massed about 40,000 soldiers near the eastern border of Ukraine.
However, Russia denies that it plans to expand its military presence beyond Crimea.