Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Ukraine crisis: Pro-Russia activists seize Luhansk HQ

BBC News online -- 29 April 2014
Pro-Russian activists storm the regional administration's headquarters in Luhansk (29 April 2014) Armed pro-Russian activists have occupied a number of government buildings in east Ukraine
A large crowd of pro-Russian separatists has stormed the regional administration's headquarters in the eastern Ukrainian city of Luhansk.

A few dozen men, some reportedly armed with metal bars, smashed windows and doors to break into the building.
Activists shouting "Referendum Russia" later flew a Russian flag over it.

Earlier, Russia criticised sanctions imposed by the US and EU on individuals and companies over their alleged actions aimed at destabilising Ukraine.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the US had "essentially lowered an 'Iron Curtain'" by targeting Russia's high-tech sector.

The EU, he added, had proved that it was "under Washington's thumb".

Mr Ryabkov also stressed that Russia had no intention of invading eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russia activists have seized government buildings in more than a dozen towns and cities.

Until now, only the local office of the State Security Service (SBU) in Luhansk, a city of 465,000 people less than 30km (20 miles) from the Russian border, had been targeted.
Pro-Russian activists climb into the regional government's headquarters in Luhansk (29 April 2014) A small group of men broke windows to gain access to the building in Luhansk, which was not protected
Pro-Russia activists inside the regional government's headquarters in Luhansk (29 April 2014) Once inside, they opened the building's main entrance to allow in demonstrators gathered outside
Ukrainian interior ministry security personnel, surrounded by pro-Russia activists, leave the regional government's headquarters in Luhansk (29 April 2014) Inside the courtyard, the activists found dozens of security personnel in riot gear
Pro-Russian activists confront interior ministry security personnel outside the regional government's headquarters in Luhansk (29 April 2014) There was a stand-off between the activists and security personnel, but no-one was attacked

But on Tuesday afternoon, hundreds of people gathered outside the headquarters of the regional government to demand a referendum on granting greater autonomy to the east.

A group of men armed with sticks and metal bars broke into the building, whose entrances were not protected by police. They then pulled down the Ukrainian flag flying from the roof and replaced it with a Russian one, and opened the main entrance to the crowd.

Inside the building's courtyard, the activists found security personnel in riot gear massed together in a defensive position. There was a stand-off, but no violence, according to the Associated Press news agency.
Map of towns in Ukraine reporting major protests by pro-Russian separatists

"The regional leadership does not control its police force," Stanislav Rechynsky, an aide to the interior minister in Kiev, told Reuters news agency. "The local police did nothing."

Mr Rechynsky added that the government had information to suggest that the separatists would now seize the local television centre.
Eastern Ukraine, which has a large Russian-speaking population, was a stronghold for former President Viktor Yanukovych before he was overthrown by protesters in February.
The interim government has rejected the pro-Russian activists' demands for greater autonomy, fearing they could lead to the break-up of the country or more regions being annexed by Russia, as happened with Crimea last month.
Pro-Russian activists continue to detain some 40 people, including seven military observers linked to the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) seized last week.
The self-styled "mayor" of the town of Sloviansk, where the observers are being held, has said he will discuss their release only if the EU drops sanctions against separatist leaders. Vyacheslav Ponomarev said their imposition "only aggravates the situation".
On Tuesday, the EU published a fresh list of 15 individuals facing travel banks and asset freezes.
Sarah Rainsford saw pro-Russians clash with united Ukraine protesters

It included Gen Valery Gerasimov, chief of the Russian General Staff, and Lt Gen Igor Sergun, identified as the head of the Russian military intelligence agency, the GRU.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak and pro-Russian separatist leaders in Crimea and in the eastern Ukrainian cities of Luhansk and Donetsk were also named.

On Monday, the US announced sanctions against seven individuals and 17 companies it said were linked to President Vladimir Putin's "inner circle". Those targeted include Igor Sechin, head of oil giant Rosneft, and Sergei Chemezov of the hi-tech firm Rostec.

The US and EU first imposed visa bans and asset freezes on a number of senior Russian officials and companies after Crimea was annexed.

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