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Pro-Russians call east Ukraine region independent

KDWN

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) — Pro-Moscow activists barricaded inside government buildings in eastern Ukraine proclaimed their regions independent Monday and called for a referendum on seceding from Ukraine – an ominous echo of the events that led to Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

The Ukrainian government accused Russia of stirring up the unrest and tried to flush the assailants from some of the seized buildings, setting off fiery clashes in one city. Russia, which has tens of thousands of troops massed along the border, sternly warned Ukraine against using force.

In Washington, the U.S. said any move by Russia into eastern Ukraine would be a “very serious escalation” that could bring further sanctions. White House spokesman Jay Carney said there was strong evidence that some of the pro-Russian protesters were hired and were not local residents.

At the same time, the U.S. announced that Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with top diplomats from Russia, Ukraine and the European Union in a new push to ease tensions. The meeting, the first such four-way talks since the crisis erupted, will take place in the next 10 days, the State Department said.

Pro-Russian activists who seized the provincial administrative building in the city of Donetsk over the weekend announced the formation Monday of the independent Donetsk People’s Republic.

They also called for a referendum on the secession of the Donetsk region, to be held no later than May 11, according to the Russian news agency Interfax.

A similar action was taken in another Russian-speaking city in the east, Kharkiv, where pro-Moscow activists proclaimed a “sovereign Kharkiv People’s Republic,” Interfax said.

It quoted the regional police as saying they later cleared the regional administration building, and the activists responded by throwing firebombs and rocks at the windows and setting tires ablaze. Local news reports said that the pro-Russian crowds then recaptured the building.

Kharkiv Mayor Gennady Kernes said the activists also took control of the TV tower in Kharkiv and demanded it resume broadcasting banned Russian channels. But local police said the assailants later left.

Viktoria Syumar, a deputy head of Ukraine’s Security and Defense Council, said Ukrainian special forces had driven pro-Russian assailants from Ukraine’s Security Service headquarters in Donetsk.

Russia annexed Crimea last month, following a referendum called just two weeks after the Black Sea peninsula had been overtaken by Russian forces. Ukraine and the West have rejected the vote and the annexation as illegal.

The activists who occupied the government headquarters building in Donetsk blocked off the entrance with 6-foot barricades of car tires lined with razor wire.

Inside, dozens of people – almost all men, many of them wearing balaclavas and carrying clubs – stood around in groups. They refused to speak to journalists about their immediate plans.

As darkness fell, people in a crowd of a few hundred fired off a brief fireworks salute that was greeted by chants of “Russia, Russia!”

The Donetsk and Kharkiv regions – and a third Russian-speaking city besieged by pro-Moscow activists over the weekend, Luhansk – have a combined population of nearly 10 million out of Ukraine’s 46 million, and account for the bulk of the country’s industrial output.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk accused Russia of fomenting the unrest to create a pretext for sending troops in and taking another piece of Ukraine.

“The plan is to destabilize the situation. The plan is for foreign troops to cross the border and seize the country’s territory, which we will not allow,” Yatsenyuk said, adding that those taking part in the unrest had distinct Russian accents.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt also said the events in eastern Ukraine were part of Moscow’s “destabilization strategy.”

“Those who thought that it ended with Crimea were wrong,” Bildt said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry rejected the Ukrainians’ allegations but reaffirmed its long-held demand that Ukraine change its constitution to turn the country into a federation with broader powers for provinces.

“If the political forces that call themselves the Ukrainian government continue to take an irresponsible attitude to the fate of the country and its people, Ukraine will inevitably face new difficulties and crises,” the ministry said in a statement.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned the Ukrainian government against using force in response to the “legitimate demands” of people in eastern Ukraine.

Eastern Ukraine has a large population of ethnic Russians and was the base of support for ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Russia in February after months of protests. Economic and cultural ties to Russia are strong here, and many are wary of the new government, which favors closer ties to the European Union.

In a video posted on the Internet, an unidentified pro-Russian activist in the Donetsk government headquarters asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to send peacekeeping troops into the region to support the protesters.

But a senior Russian lawmaker suggested Monday that such a move was not imminent.

Viktor Oserov, head of the defense committee in the Russian Parliament’s upper house, said Moscow cannot send peacekeepers in without a U.N. Security Council resolution, according to Interfax.

Jim Heintz and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow, Karl Ritter in Stockholm and Maria Danilova in Kiev contributed to this report.

Pro-Russians call east Ukraine region independent

KDWN

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) — Pro-Moscow activists barricaded inside government buildings in eastern Ukraine proclaimed their regions independent Monday and called for a referendum on seceding from Ukraine – an ominous echo of the events that led to Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

The Ukrainian government accused Russia of stirring up the unrest and tried to flush the assailants from some of the seized buildings, setting off fiery clashes in one city. Russia, which has tens of thousands of troops massed along the border, sternly warned Ukraine against using force.

In Washington, the U.S. said any move by Russia into eastern Ukraine would be a “very serious escalation” that could bring further sanctions. White House spokesman Jay Carney said there was strong evidence that some of the pro-Russian protesters were hired and were not local residents.

At the same time, the U.S. announced that Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with top diplomats from Russia, Ukraine and the European Union in a new push to ease tensions. The meeting, the first such four-way talks since the crisis erupted, will take place in the next 10 days, the State Department said.

Pro-Russian activists who seized the provincial administrative building in the city of Donetsk over the weekend announced the formation Monday of the independent Donetsk People’s Republic.

They also called for a referendum on the secession of the Donetsk region, to be held no later than May 11, according to the Russian news agency Interfax.

A similar action was taken in another Russian-speaking city in the east, Kharkiv, where pro-Moscow activists proclaimed a “sovereign Kharkiv People’s Republic,” Interfax said.

It quoted the regional police as saying they later cleared the regional administration building, and the activists responded by throwing firebombs and rocks at the windows and setting tires ablaze. Local news reports said that the pro-Russian crowds then recaptured the building.

Kharkiv Mayor Gennady Kernes said the activists also took control of the TV tower in Kharkiv and demanded it resume broadcasting banned Russian channels. But local police said the assailants later left.

Viktoria Syumar, a deputy head of Ukraine’s Security and Defense Council, said Ukrainian special forces had driven pro-Russian assailants from Ukraine’s Security Service headquarters in Donetsk.

Russia annexed Crimea last month, following a referendum called just two weeks after the Black Sea peninsula had been overtaken by Russian forces. Ukraine and the West have rejected the vote and the annexation as illegal.

The activists who occupied the government headquarters building in Donetsk blocked off the entrance with 6-foot barricades of car tires lined with razor wire.

Inside, dozens of people – almost all men, many of them wearing balaclavas and carrying clubs – stood around in groups. They refused to speak to journalists about their immediate plans.

As darkness fell, people in a crowd of a few hundred fired off a brief fireworks salute that was greeted by chants of “Russia, Russia!”

The Donetsk and Kharkiv regions – and a third Russian-speaking city besieged by pro-Moscow activists over the weekend, Luhansk – have a combined population of nearly 10 million out of Ukraine’s 46 million, and account for the bulk of the country’s industrial output.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk accused Russia of fomenting the unrest to create a pretext for sending troops in and taking another piece of Ukraine.

“The plan is to destabilize the situation. The plan is for foreign troops to cross the border and seize the country’s territory, which we will not allow,” he said, adding that those taking part in the unrest had distinct Russian accents.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt also said the events in eastern Ukraine were part of Moscow’s “destabilization strategy.”

“Those who thought that it ended with Crimea were wrong,” Bildt said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry rejected the Ukrainians’ allegations but reaffirmed its long-held demand that Ukraine change its constitution to turn the country into a federation with broader powers for provinces.

“If the political forces that call themselves the Ukrainian government continue to take an irresponsible attitude to the fate of the country and its people, Ukraine will inevitably face new difficulties and crises,” the ministry said in a statement.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned the Ukrainian government against using force in response to the “legitimate demands” of people in eastern Ukraine.

Eastern Ukraine has a large population of ethnic Russians and was the base of support for ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Russia in February after months of protests. Economic and cultural ties to Russia are strong here, and many are wary of the new government, which favors closer ties to the European Union.

In a video posted on the Internet, an unidentified pro-Russian activist in the Donetsk government headquarters asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to send peacekeeping troops into the region to support the protesters.

But a senior Russian lawmaker suggested Monday that such a move was not imminent.

Viktor Oserov, head of the defense committee in the Russian Parliament’s upper house, said Moscow cannot send peacekeepers in without a U.N. Security Council resolution, according to Interfax.

Jim Heintz and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow, Karl Ritter in Stockholm and Maria Danilova in Kiev contributed to this report.

Pro-Russians call east Ukraine region independent

KDWN

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) — Pro-Moscow activists barricaded inside government buildings in eastern Ukraine proclaimed their regions independent Monday and called for a referendum on seceding from Ukraine – an ominous echo of the events that led to Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

The Ukrainian government accused Russia of stirring up the unrest and tried to flush the assailants from some of the seized buildings, setting off fiery clashes in one city. Russia, which has tens of thousands of troops massed along the border, sternly warned Ukraine against using force.

In Washington, the U.S. said any move by Russia into eastern Ukraine would be a “very serious escalation” that could bring further sanctions. White House spokesman Jay Carney said there was strong evidence that some of the pro-Russian protesters were hired and were not local residents.

At the same time, the U.S. announced that Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with top diplomats from Russia, Ukraine and the European Union in a new push to ease tensions. The meeting, the first such four-way talks since the crisis erupted, will take place in the next 10 days, the State Department said.

Pro-Russian activists who seized the provincial administrative building in the city of Donetsk over the weekend announced the formation Monday of the independent Donetsk People’s Republic.

They also called for a referendum on the secession of the Donetsk region, to be held no later than May 11, according to the Russian news agency Interfax.

A similar action was taken in another Russian-speaking city in the east, Kharkiv, where pro-Moscow activists proclaimed a “sovereign Kharkiv People’s Republic,” Interfax said.

It quoted the regional police as saying they later cleared the regional administration building, and the activists responded by throwing firebombs and rocks at the windows and setting tires ablaze. Local news reports said that the pro-Russian crowds then recaptured the building.

Kharkiv Mayor Gennady Kernes said the activists also took control of the TV tower in Kharkiv and demanded it resume broadcasting banned Russian channels. But local police said the assailants later left.

Viktoria Syumar, a deputy head of Ukraine’s Security and Defense Council, said Ukrainian special forces had driven pro-Russian assailants from Ukraine’s Security Service headquarters in Donetsk.

Russia annexed Crimea last month, following a referendum called just two weeks after the Black Sea peninsula had been overtaken by Russian forces. Ukraine and the West have rejected the vote and the annexation as illegal.

The activists who occupied the government headquarters building in Donetsk blocked off the entrance with 6-foot barricades of car tires lined with razor wire.

Inside, dozens of people – almost all men, many of them wearing balaclavas and carrying clubs – stood around in groups. They refused to speak to journalists about their immediate plans.

As darkness fell, people in a crowd of a few hundred fired off a brief fireworks salute that was greeted by chants of “Russia, Russia!”

The Donetsk and Kharkiv regions – and a third Russian-speaking city besieged by pro-Moscow activists over the weekend, Luhansk – have a combined population of nearly 10 million out of Ukraine’s 46 million, and account for the bulk of the country’s industrial output.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk accused Russia of fomenting the unrest to create a pretext for sending troops in and taking another piece of Ukraine.

“The plan is to destabilize the situation. The plan is for foreign troops to cross the border and seize the country’s territory, which we will not allow,” he said, adding that those taking part in the unrest had distinct Russian accents.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt also said the events in eastern Ukraine were part of Moscow’s “destabilization strategy.”

“Those who thought that it ended with Crimea were wrong,” Bildt said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry rejected the Ukrainians’ allegations but reaffirmed its long-held demand that Ukraine change its constitution to turn the country into a federation with broader powers for provinces.

“If the political forces that call themselves the Ukrainian government continue to take an irresponsible attitude to the fate of the country and its people, Ukraine will inevitably face new difficulties and crises,” the ministry said in a statement.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned the Ukrainian government against using force in response to the “legitimate demands” of people in eastern Ukraine.

Eastern Ukraine has a large population of ethnic Russians and was the base of support for ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Russia in February after months of protests. Economic and cultural ties to Russia are strong here, and many are wary of the new government, which favors closer ties to the European Union.

In a video posted on the Internet, an unidentified pro-Russian activist in the Donetsk government headquarters asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to send peacekeeping troops into the region to support the protesters.

But a senior Russian lawmaker suggested Monday that such a move was not imminent.

Viktor Oserov, head of the defense committee in the Russian Parliament’s upper house, said Moscow cannot send peacekeepers in without a U.N. Security Council resolution, according to Interfax.

Jim Heintz and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow, Karl Ritter in Stockholm and Maria Danilova in Kiev contributed to this report.

Pro-Russians call east Ukraine region independent

KDWN

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) — Pro-Moscow activists barricaded inside government buildings in eastern Ukraine proclaimed their regions independent Monday and called for a referendum on seceding from Ukraine – an ominous echo of the events that led to Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

The Ukrainian government accused Russia of stirring up the unrest and tried to flush the assailants from some of the seized buildings, setting off fiery clashes in one city. Russia, which has tens of thousands of troops massed along the border, sternly warned Ukraine against using force.

In Washington, the U.S. said any move by Russia into eastern Ukraine would be a “very serious escalation” that could bring further sanctions. White House spokesman Jay Carney said there was strong evidence that some of the pro-Russian protesters were hired and were not local residents.

At the same time, the U.S. announced that Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with top diplomats from Russia, Ukraine and the European Union in a new push to ease tensions. The meeting, the first such four-way talks since the crisis erupted, will take place in the next 10 days, the State Department said.

Pro-Russian activists who seized the provincial administrative building in the city of Donetsk over the weekend announced the formation Monday of the independent Donetsk People’s Republic.

They also called for a referendum on the secession of the Donetsk region, to be held no later than May 11, according to the Russian news agency Interfax.

A similar action was taken in another Russian-speaking city in the east, Kharkiv, where pro-Moscow activists proclaimed a “sovereign Kharkiv People’s Republic,” Interfax said.

It quoted the regional police as saying they later cleared the regional administration building, and the activists responded by throwing firebombs and rocks at the windows and setting tires ablaze. Local news reports said that the pro-Russian crowds then recaptured the building.

Kharkiv Mayor Gennady Kernes said the activists also took control of the TV tower in Kharkiv and demanded it resume broadcasting banned Russian channels. But local police said the assailants later left.

Viktoria Syumar, a deputy head of Ukraine’s Security and Defense Council, said Ukrainian special forces had driven pro-Russian assailants from Ukraine’s Security Service headquarters in Donetsk.

Russia annexed Crimea last month, following a referendum called just two weeks after the Black Sea peninsula had been overtaken by Russian forces. Ukraine and the West have rejected the vote and the annexation as illegal.

The activists who occupied the government headquarters building in Donetsk blocked off the entrance with 6-foot barricades of car tires lined with razor wire.

Inside, dozens of people – almost all men, many of them wearing balaclavas and carrying clubs – stood around in groups. They refused to speak to journalists about their immediate plans.

As darkness fell, people in a crowd of a few hundred fired off a brief fireworks salute that was greeted by chants of “Russia, Russia!”

The Donetsk and Kharkiv regions – and a third Russian-speaking city besieged by pro-Moscow activists over the weekend, Luhansk – have a combined population of nearly 10 million out of Ukraine’s 46 million, and account for the bulk of the country’s industrial output.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk accused Russia of fomenting the unrest to create a pretext for sending troops in and taking another piece of Ukraine.

“The plan is to destabilize the situation. The plan is for foreign troops to cross the border and seize the country’s territory, which we will not allow,” he said, adding that those taking part in the unrest had distinct Russian accents.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt also said the events in eastern Ukraine were part of Moscow’s “destabilization strategy.”

“Those who thought that it ended with Crimea were wrong,” Bildt said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry rejected the Ukrainians’ allegations but reaffirmed its long-held demand that Ukraine change its constitution to turn the country into a federation with broader powers for provinces.

“If the political forces that call themselves the Ukrainian government continue to take an irresponsible attitude to the fate of the country and its people, Ukraine will inevitably face new difficulties and crises,” the ministry said in a statement.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned the Ukrainian government against using force in response to the “legitimate demands” of people in eastern Ukraine.

Eastern Ukraine has a large population of ethnic Russians and was the base of support for ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Russia in February after months of protests. Economic and cultural ties to Russia are strong here, and many are wary of the new government, which favors closer ties to the European Union.

In a video posted on the Internet, an unidentified pro-Russian activist in the Donetsk government headquarters asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to send peacekeeping troops into the region to support the protesters.

But a senior Russian lawmaker suggested Monday that such a move was not imminent.

Viktor Oserov, head of the defense committee in the Russian Parliament’s upper house, said Moscow cannot send peacekeepers in without a U.N. Security Council resolution, according to Interfax.

Jim Heintz and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow, Karl Ritter in Stockholm and Maria Danilova in Kiev contributed to this report.

Pro-Russians call east Ukraine region independent

KDWN

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) — Pro-Moscow activists barricaded inside government buildings in eastern Ukraine proclaimed their regions independent Monday and called for a referendum on seceding from Ukraine – an ominous echo of the events that led to Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

The Ukrainian government accused Russia of stirring up the unrest and tried to flush the assailants from some of the seized buildings, setting off fiery clashes in one city. Russia, which has tens of thousands of troops massed along the border, sternly warned Ukraine against using force.

In Washington, the U.S. said any move by Russia into eastern Ukraine would be a “very serious escalation” that could bring further sanctions. White House spokesman Jay Carney said there was strong evidence that some of the pro-Russian protesters were hired and were not local residents.

At the same time, the U.S. announced that Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with top diplomats from Russia, Ukraine and the European Union in a new push to ease tensions. The meeting, the first such four-way talks since the crisis erupted, will take place in the next 10 days, the State Department said.

Pro-Russian activists who seized the provincial administrative building in the city of Donetsk over the weekend announced the formation Monday of the independent Donetsk People’s Republic.

They also called for a referendum on the secession of the Donetsk region, to be held no later than May 11, according to the Russian news agency Interfax.

A similar action was taken in another Russian-speaking city in the east, Kharkiv, where pro-Moscow activists proclaimed a “sovereign Kharkiv People’s Republic,” Interfax said.

It quoted the regional police as saying they later cleared the regional administration building, and the activists responded by throwing firebombs and rocks at the windows and setting tires ablaze. Local news reports said that the pro-Russian crowds then recaptured the building.

Kharkiv Mayor Gennady Kernes said the activists also took control of the TV tower in Kharkiv and demanded it resume broadcasting banned Russian channels. But local police said the assailants later left.

Viktoria Syumar, a deputy head of Ukraine’s Security and Defense Council, said Ukrainian special forces had driven pro-Russian assailants from Ukraine’s Security Service headquarters in Donetsk.

Russia annexed Crimea last month, following a referendum called just two weeks after the Black Sea peninsula had been overtaken by Russian forces. Ukraine and the West have rejected the vote and the annexation as illegal.

The activists who occupied the government headquarters building in Donetsk blocked off the entrance with 6-foot barricades of car tires lined with razor wire.

Inside, dozens of people – almost all men, many of them wearing balaclavas and carrying clubs – stood around in groups. They refused to speak to journalists about their immediate plans.

As darkness fell, people in a crowd of a few hundred fired off a brief fireworks salute that was greeted by chants of “Russia, Russia!”

The Donetsk and Kharkiv regions – and a third Russian-speaking city besieged by pro-Moscow activists over the weekend, Luhansk – have a combined population of nearly 10 million out of Ukraine’s 46 million, and account for the bulk of the country’s industrial output.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk accused Russia of fomenting the unrest to create a pretext for sending troops in and taking another piece of Ukraine.

“The plan is to destabilize the situation. The plan is for foreign troops to cross the border and seize the country’s territory, which we will not allow,” he said, adding that those taking part in the unrest had distinct Russian accents.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt also said the events in eastern Ukraine were part of Moscow’s “destabilization strategy.”

“Those who thought that it ended with Crimea were wrong,” Bildt said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry rejected the Ukrainians’ allegations but reaffirmed its long-held demand that Ukraine change its constitution to turn the country into a federation with broader powers for provinces.

“If the political forces that call themselves the Ukrainian government continue to take an irresponsible attitude to the fate of the country and its people, Ukraine will inevitably face new difficulties and crises,” the ministry said in a statement.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned the Ukrainian government against using force in response to the “legitimate demands” of people in eastern Ukraine.

Eastern Ukraine has a large population of ethnic Russians and was the base of support for ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Russia in February after months of protests. Economic and cultural ties to Russia are strong here, and many are wary of the new government, which favors closer ties to the European Union.

In a video posted on the Internet, an unidentified pro-Russian activist in the Donetsk government headquarters asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to send peacekeeping troops into the region to support the protesters.

But a senior Russian lawmaker suggested Monday that such a move was not imminent.

Viktor Oserov, head of the defense committee in the Russian Parliament’s upper house, said Moscow cannot send peacekeepers in without a U.N. Security Council resolution, according to Interfax.

Jim Heintz and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow, Karl Ritter in Stockholm and Maria Danilova in Kiev contributed to this report.

Pro-Russians call east Ukraine region independent

KDWN

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) — Pro-Moscow activists barricaded inside government buildings in eastern Ukraine proclaimed their regions independent Monday and called for a referendum on seceding from Ukraine – an ominous echo of the events that led to Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

The Ukrainian government accused Russia of stirring up the unrest and tried to flush the assailants from some of the seized buildings. Russia, which has tens of thousands of troops massed along the border, sternly warned Ukraine against using force.

In Washington, the U.S. said any move by Russia into eastern Ukraine would be a “very serious escalation” that could bring further sanctions. White House spokesman Jay Carney said there was strong evidence that some of the pro-Russian protesters were hired and were not local residents.

At the same time, the U.S. announced that Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with top diplomats from Russia, Ukraine and the European Union in a new push to ease tensions. The meeting, the first such four-way talks since the crisis erupted, will take place in the next 10 days, the State Department said.

Pro-Russian activists who seized the provincial administrative building in the city of Donetsk over the weekend announced the formation Monday of the independent Donetsk People’s Republic.

They also called for a referendum on the secession of the Donetsk region, which borders Russia, to be held no later than May 11, according to the Russian news agency Interfax.

A similar action was taken in another Russian-speaking city in the east, Kharkiv, where pro-Moscow activists declared themselves “alternative” regional legislators and proclaimed a “sovereign Kharkiv People’s Republic,” Interfax said.

It quoted the regional police as saying they later cleared the regional administration building, and the activists responded by throwing firebombs and rocks at the windows and setting tires ablaze.

Kharkiv Mayor Gennady Kernes said the activists took control of the broadcasting tower in Kharkiv and demanded it resume broadcasting Russian television channels that the Ukrainian government banned.

Viktoria Syumar, a deputy head of Ukraine’s Security and Defense Council, said Ukrainian special forces had driven the pro-Russian assailants from Ukraine’s Security Service headquarters in Donetsk, which they had seized earlier in the day.

Russia annexed Crimea last month, following a referendum called just two weeks after the Black Sea peninsula had been overtaken by Russian forces. Ukraine and the West have rejected the vote and the annexation as illegal.

The activists who occupied the government headquarters building in Donetsk blocked off the entrance with 6-foot barricades of car tires lined with razor wire.

Inside, dozens of people – almost all men, many of them wearing balaclavas and carrying clubs – stood around in groups. They refused to speak to journalists about their immediate plans.

As darkness fell, people in a crowd of a few hundred fired off a brief fireworks salute that was greeted by chants of “Russia, Russia!”

The Donetsk and Kharkiv regions – and a third Russian-speaking city besieged by pro-Moscow activists over the weekend, Luhansk – have a combined population of nearly 10 million out of Ukraine’s 46 million, and account for the bulk of the country’s industrial output.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk accused Russia of fomenting the unrest to create a pretext for sending troops in and taking another piece of Ukraine.

“The plan is to destabilize the situation. The plan is for foreign troops to cross the border and seize the country’s territory, which we will not allow,” he said, adding that those taking part in the unrest had distinct Russian accents.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt also said the events in eastern Ukraine were part of Moscow’s “destabilization strategy.”

“Those who thought that it ended with Crimea were wrong,” Bildt said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry rejected the Ukrainians’ allegations but reaffirmed its long-held demand that Ukraine change its constitution to turn the country into a federation with broader powers for provinces.

“If the political forces that call themselves the Ukrainian government continue to take an irresponsible attitude to the fate of the country and its people, Ukraine will inevitably face new difficulties and crises,” the ministry said in a statement.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned the Ukrainian government against using force in response to the “legitimate demands” of people in eastern Ukraine.

Eastern Ukraine has a large population of ethnic Russians and was the base of support for ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Russia in February after months of protests. Economic and cultural ties to Russia are strong here, and many are wary of the new government, which favors closer ties to the European Union.

In a video posted on the Internet, an unidentified pro-Russian activist in the Donetsk government headquarters asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to send peacekeeping troops into the region.

“Without your support, without the support of Russia, it will be hard for us to resist the Kiev junta on our own,” the man said, referring to the interim authorities that took power in Ukraine after the overthrow of Yanukovych.

But a senior Russian lawmaker suggested Monday that such a move was not imminent. Viktor Oserov, head of the defense committee in the Russian Parliament’s upper house, said Moscow cannot send peacekeepers in without a U.N. Security Council resolution, according to Interfax.

Jim Heintz and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow, Karl Ritter in Stockholm and Maria Danilova in Kiev contributed to this report.

Pro-Russians call east Ukraine region independent

KDWN

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) — Pro-Russian activists barricaded inside a government building in eastern Ukraine proclaimed the region independent Monday and called for a referendum on seceding from Ukraine – an ominous echo of the events that led to Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

The Ukrainian government accused Russia of stirring up the unrest and vowed to quell it. Russia, which has tens of thousands of troops massed along the border, warned Ukraine of more “difficulties and crises” if its leaders fail to heed Moscow’s demands.

In Washington, the U.S. said any move by Russia into eastern Ukraine would be a “very serious escalation” that could bring further sanctions. White House spokesman Jay Carney said there was strong evidence that some of the pro-Russian protesters in Ukraine were paid and were not local residents.

At the same time, the U.S. announced that Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with top diplomats from Russia, Ukraine and the European Union in a new push to ease tensions. The meeting, the first such four-way talks since the crisis erupted, will take place in the next 10 days, the State Department said.

Pro-Russian activists who seized the provincial administrative building in the city of Donetsk over the weekend announced the formation Monday of the independent Donetsk People’s Republic.

They also called for a referendum on the secession of the Donetsk region, which borders Russia, to be held no later than May 11, according to the Russian news agency Interfax.

A similar action was taken in another Russian-speaking city in the east, Kharkiv, where pro-Moscow activists declared themselves “alternative” regional legislators and proclaimed a “sovereign Kharkiv People’s Republic,” Interfax reported.

Russia annexed Crimea last month, following a referendum called just two weeks after the Black Sea peninsula had been overtaken by Russian forces. Ukraine and the West have rejected the vote and the annexation as illegal.

The activists who occupied the government building in Donetsk blocked off the entrance with 6-foot barricades of car tires lined with razor wire.

Inside, dozens of people – almost all men, many of them wearing balaclavas and carrying clubs – stood around in groups. They refused to speak to journalists about their immediate plans.

As darkness fell, people in a crowd of a few hundred fired off a brief fireworks salute that was greeted by chants of “Russia, Russia!”

The Donetsk and Kharkiv regions – and a third Russian-speaking city besieged by pro-Moscow activists over the weekend, Luhansk -have a combined population of nearly 10 million out of Ukraine’s 46 million, and account for the bulk of the country’s industrial output.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk accused Russia of fomenting the unrest to create a pretext for sending troops in and taking another piece of Ukraine.

“The plan is to destabilize the situation. The plan is for foreign troops to cross the border and seize the country’s territory, which we will not allow,” he said, adding that those taking part in the unrest had distinct Russian accents.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt also said the events in eastern Ukraine were part of Moscow’s “destabilization strategy.”

“Those who thought that it ended with Crimea were wrong,” Bildt said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry rejected the Ukrainians’ allegations but reaffirmed its long-held demand that Ukraine change its constitution to turn the country into a federation with broader powers for provinces.

“If the political forces that call themselves the Ukrainian government continue to take an irresponsible attitude to the fate of the country and its people, Ukraine will inevitably face new difficulties and crises,” the ministry said in a statement.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned the Ukrainian government against using force in response to the “legitimate demands” of people in eastern Ukraine.

Eastern Ukraine, which has a large population of ethnic Russians, was the base of support for ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Russia in February after months of protests. Economic and cultural ties to Russia are strong here, and many are wary of the new government, which favors closer ties to the European Union.

In a video posted on the Internet, an unidentified pro-Russian activist in the Donetsk government headquarters asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to send peacekeeping troops into the region.

“Without your support, without the support of Russia, it will be hard for us to resist the Kiev junta on our own,” the man said, referring to the interim authorities that took power in Ukraine after the overthrow of Yanukovych.

But a senior Russian lawmaker suggested Monday that such a move was not imminent. Viktor Oserov, head of the defense committee in the Russian Parliament’s upper house, said Moscow cannot send peacekeepers in without a U.N. Security Council resolution, according to Interfax.

Jim Heintz and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow, Karl Ritter in Stockholm and Maria Danilova in Kiev contributed to this report.

Pro-Russians call east Ukraine region independent

KDWN

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) — Pro-Russian activists barricaded inside a government building in eastern Ukraine proclaimed the region independent Monday and called for a referendum on seceding from Ukraine – an ominous echo of the events that led to Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

The Ukrainian government accused Russia of stirring up the unrest and vowed to quell it. Russia, which has tens of thousands of troops massed along the border, warned Ukraine of more “difficulties and crises” if its leaders fail to heed Moscow’s demands.

In Washington, the U.S. said any move by Russia into eastern Ukraine would be a “very serious escalation” that could bring further sanctions. White House spokesman Jay Carney said there was strong evidence that some of the pro-Russian protesters in Ukraine were paid and were not local residents.

At the same time, the U.S. announced that Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with top diplomats from Russia, Ukraine and the European Union in a new push to ease tensions. The meeting, the first such four-way talks since the crisis erupted, will take place in the next 10 days, the State Department said.

Pro-Russian activists who seized the provincial administrative building in the city of Donetsk over the weekend announced the formation Monday of the independent Donetsk People’s Republic.

They also called for a referendum on the secession of the Donetsk region, which borders Russia, to be held no later than May 11, according to the Russian news agency Interfax.

A similar action was taken in another Russian-speaking city in the east, Kharkiv, where pro-Moscow activists declared themselves “alternative” regional legislators and proclaimed a “sovereign Kharkiv People’s Republic,” Interfax reported.

Russia annexed Crimea last month, following a referendum called just two weeks after the Black Sea peninsula had been overtaken by Russian forces. Ukraine and the West have rejected the vote and the annexation as illegal.

The activists who occupied the government building in Donetsk blocked off the entrance with 6-foot barricades of car tires lined with razor wire.

Inside, dozens of people – almost all men, many of them wearing balaclavas and carrying clubs – stood around in groups. They refused to speak to journalists about their immediate plans.

As darkness fell, people in a crowd of a few hundred fired off a brief fireworks salute that was greeted by chants of “Russia, Russia!”

The Donetsk and Kharkiv regions – and a third Russian-speaking city besieged by pro-Moscow activists over the weekend, Luhansk -have a combined population of nearly 10 million out of Ukraine’s 46 million, and account for the bulk of the country’s industrial output.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk accused Russia of fomenting the unrest to create a pretext for sending troops in and taking another piece of Ukraine.

“The plan is to destabilize the situation. The plan is for foreign troops to cross the border and seize the country’s territory, which we will not allow,” he said, adding that those taking part in the unrest had distinct Russian accents.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt also said the events in eastern Ukraine were part of Moscow’s “destabilization strategy.”

“Those who thought that it ended with Crimea were wrong,” Bildt said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry rejected the Ukrainians’ allegations but reaffirmed its long-held demand that Ukraine change its constitution to turn the country into a federation with broader powers for provinces.

“If the political forces that call themselves the Ukrainian government continue to take an irresponsible attitude to the fate of the country and its people, Ukraine will inevitably face new difficulties and crises,” the ministry said in a statement.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned the Ukrainian government against using force in response to the “legitimate demands” of people in eastern Ukraine.

Eastern Ukraine, which has a large population of ethnic Russians, was the base of support for ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Russia in February after months of protests. Economic and cultural ties to Russia are strong here, and many are wary of the new government, which favors closer ties to the European Union.

In a video posted on the Internet, an unidentified pro-Russian activist in the Donetsk government headquarters asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to send peacekeeping troops into the region.

“Without your support, without the support of Russia, it will be hard for us to resist the Kiev junta on our own,” the man said, referring to the interim authorities that took power in Ukraine after the overthrow of Yanukovych.

But a senior Russian lawmaker suggested Monday that such a move was not imminent. Viktor Oserov, head of the defense committee in the Russian Parliament’s upper house, said Moscow cannot send peacekeepers in without a U.N. Security Council resolution, according to Interfax.

Jim Heintz and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow, Karl Ritter in Stockholm and Maria Danilova in Kiev contributed to this report.

Pro-Russians call east Ukraine region independent

KDWN

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) — Pro-Russian separatists who seized a provincial building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk proclaimed the region independent Monday – an ominous echo of events prior to Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Ukrainian authorities called the move an attempt by Russia to sow unrest.

The Interfax news agency said the activists demanded that a referendum be held no later than May 11 on the possible secession of the Donetsk region, which borders Russia.

Pro-Russian crowds on Sunday had stormed government buildings in Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv, all cities in Ukraine’s heavily Russian-speaking east. Authorities say all the storming parties appeared to have been armed. The government was struggling Monday to regain control of those buildings.

Outside the Donetsk building, a barricade of car tires and razor wire was built up to thwart police from retaking it. Interfax cited police in Donetsk as saying one armed group fired into the air and attempted to seize the regional state television broadcaster Monday but retreated after police and guards in the building also fired warning shots into the air.

“After that, the attackers fled to an unknown location,” police were cited as saying.

Speaking in a televised address, acting President Oleksandr Turchinov called the events gripping eastern Ukraine an operation undertaken by Russia to sow instability.

“Anti-terrorism measures will be adopted against those who took up weapons,” Turchinov said in Kiev, adding that parliament would convene Tuesday to consider tougher penalties for separatist actions and even ban parties that engage in separatism.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk also accused Russia of being behind the unrest as a pretext for sending troops across the border.

“The plan is to destabilize the situation, the plan is for foreign troops to cross the border and seize the country’s territory, which we will not allow,” he said, adding that those taking part in the unrest had distinct Russian accents.

The Russian Foreign Ministry rejected the allegations but reaffirmed its long-held demand that the Ukrainian government turn the country into a federation with broader powers for provinces. It added that such reforms should also seal Ukraine’s non-aligned status and ensure a special status for the Russian language.

“If the political forces that call themselves the Ukrainian government continue to take irresponsible attitude to the fate of the country and its people, Ukraine will inevitably face new difficulties and crises,” the ministry said in a statement.

Yatsenyuk said Russian troops remain stationed within 30 kilometers (19 miles) of the border.

Eastern Ukraine was the heartland of support for ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Russia in February after months of protests. About half of the region’s residents are ethnic Russians, many of whom believe Ukraine’s acting authorities are nationalists who will oppress them. Ukraine’s interim authorities deny they are infringing upon the rights of ethnic Russians and there have been no evidence of Russians facing harassment in Ukraine.

Since the Crimean Peninsula held a secession referendum and then was annexed by Russia in March, calls for similar votes in Ukraine’s east have emerged. But one witness in Donetsk said the crowd Sunday included large numbers of masked men who behaved more aggressively than at previous pro-Russian rallies.

Ukraine’s Security Service over the weekend said it had detained a 15-strong armed gang that was planning to seize power in the eastern province of Luhansk. The agency said it seized 300 assault rifles, an anti-tank grenade launcher, a large number of grenades, five handguns and firebombs.

It was unclear whether that group was linked to those behind Sunday’s disturbances.

The international community has expressed growing anxiety over the large Russian troop movements along the Ukrainian border. NATO says up to 40,000 Russian troops have mobilized and present a distinct threat to Ukraine. Russia says it has the right to move its troops wherever it wants on its own territory.

In a video posted on the Internet, an unidentified pro-Russian activist in the Donetsk government headquarters asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to send peacekeeping troops into the region.

“Without your support, without the support of Russia, it will be hard for us to resist the Kiev junta on our own,” he said, referring to the interim authorities that took power in Ukraine after the overthrow of Yanukovych.

But a senior Russian lawmaker suggested Monday that such a move was not imminent. Viktor Oserov, head of the defense committee in the Russian parliament’s upper house, said Russia cannot send peacekeepers to Ukraine without a resolution by the U.N. Security Council, according to Interfax.

The ITAR-Tass state news agency cited the deputy speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament, Ilyas Umakhanov, as saying he didn’t see the situation in Donetsk as a replay of Crimea.

“I don’t think this situation automatically reflects what happened in Crimea … from the judicial, historical and legal points of view, it demands a separate assessment,” Umakhanov said.

Russian news agencies also reported Monday that prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation into the death of a Crimea-based Ukrainian army major who was shot and killed by a Russian soldier on Sunday.

Russian reports said Ukrainian soldiers in the village of Novofedorovskoye were on their way home when they passed Russian soldiers guarding the military base where they previously worked, and an argument kicked off between the two groups.

Jim Heintz and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.

Pro-Russians call east Ukraine region independent

KDWN

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) — Pro-Russian separatists who seized a provincial building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk proclaimed the region independent Monday – an ominous echo of events prior to Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Ukrainian authorities called the move an attempt by Russia to sow unrest.

The Interfax news agency said the activists demanded that a referendum be held no later than May 11 on the possible secession of the Donetsk region, which borders Russia.

Pro-Russian crowds on Sunday had stormed government buildings in Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv, all cities in Ukraine’s heavily Russian-speaking east. Authorities say all the storming parties appeared to have been armed. The government was struggling Monday to regain control of those buildings.

Outside the Donetsk building, a barricade of car tires and razor wire was built up to thwart police from retaking it. Interfax cited police in Donetsk as saying one armed group fired into the air and attempted to seize the regional state television broadcaster Monday but retreated after police and guards in the building also fired warning shots into the air.

“After that, the attackers fled to an unknown location,” police were cited as saying.

Speaking in a televised address, acting President Oleksandr Turchinov called the events gripping eastern Ukraine an operation undertaken by Russia to sow instability.

“Anti-terrorism measures will be adopted against those who took up weapons,” Turchinov said in Kiev, adding that parliament would convene Tuesday to consider tougher penalties for separatist actions and even ban parties that engage in separatism.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk also accused Russia of being behind the unrest as a pretext for sending troops across the border.

“The plan is to destabilize the situation, the plan is for foreign troops to cross the border and seize the country’s territory, which we will not allow,” he said, adding that those taking part in the unrest had distinct Russian accents.

The Russian Foreign Ministry rejected the allegations but reaffirmed its long-held demand that the Ukrainian government turn the country into a federation with broader powers for provinces. It added that such reforms should also seal Ukraine’s non-aligned status and ensure a special status for the Russian language.

“If the political forces that call themselves the Ukrainian government continue to take irresponsible attitude to the fate of the country and its people, Ukraine will inevitably face new difficulties and crises,” the ministry said in a statement.

Yatsenyuk said Russian troops remain stationed within 30 kilometers (19 miles) of the border.

Eastern Ukraine was the heartland of support for ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Russia in February after months of protests. About half of the region’s residents are ethnic Russians, many of whom believe Ukraine’s acting authorities are nationalists who will oppress them. Ukraine’s interim authorities deny they are infringing upon the rights of ethnic Russians and there have been no evidence of Russians facing harassment in Ukraine.

Since the Crimean Peninsula held a secession referendum and then was annexed by Russia in March, calls for similar votes in Ukraine’s east have emerged. But one witness in Donetsk said the crowd Sunday included large numbers of masked men who behaved more aggressively than at previous pro-Russian rallies.

Ukraine’s Security Service over the weekend said it had detained a 15-strong armed gang that was planning to seize power in the eastern province of Luhansk. The agency said it seized 300 assault rifles, an anti-tank grenade launcher, a large number of grenades, five handguns and firebombs.

It was unclear whether that group was linked to those behind Sunday’s disturbances.

The international community has expressed growing anxiety over the large Russian troop movements along the Ukrainian border. NATO says up to 40,000 Russian troops have mobilized and present a distinct threat to Ukraine. Russia says it has the right to move its troops wherever it wants on its own territory.

In a video posted on the Internet, an unidentified pro-Russian activist in the Donetsk government headquarters asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to send peacekeeping troops into the region.

“Without your support, without the support of Russia, it will be hard for us to resist the Kiev junta on our own,” he said, referring to the interim authorities that took power in Ukraine after the overthrow of Yanukovych.

But a senior Russian lawmaker suggested Monday that such a move was not imminent. Viktor Oserov, head of the defense committee in the Russian parliament’s upper house, said Russia cannot send peacekeepers to Ukraine without a resolution by the U.N. Security Council, according to Interfax.

The ITAR-Tass state news agency cited the deputy speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament, Ilyas Umakhanov, as saying he didn’t see the situation in Donetsk as a replay of Crimea.

“I don’t think this situation automatically reflects what happened in Crimea … from the judicial, historical and legal points of view, it demands a separate assessment,” Umakhanov said.

Russian news agencies also reported Monday that prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation into the death of a Crimea-based Ukrainian army major who was shot and killed by a Russian soldier on Sunday.

Russian reports said Ukrainian soldiers in the village of Novofedorovskoye were on their way home when they passed Russian soldiers guarding the military base where they previously worked, and an argument kicked off between the two groups.

Jim Heintz and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.

Pro-Russians call east Ukraine region independent

KDWN

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Pro-Russian separatists who seized a provincial administration building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk proclaimed the region independent Monday – an echo of events prior to Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Ukrainian authorities called the move an attempt by Russia to sow unrest.

The Interfax news agency said the activists demanded that a referendum be held no later than May 11 on the possible secession of the Donetsk region, which borders Russia.

Outside the administration building, a barricade of car tires and razor wire was built up to keep police from retaking it. Police said those inside the building were armed.

Speaking in a televised address, acting President Oleksandr Turchinov called the events gripping eastern regions – where pro-Russian activists seized government buildings in at least three cities Sunday – an operation undertaken by Russia to sow instability.

“Anti-terrorism measures will be adopted against those that took up weapons,” Turchinov said, adding that parliament would convene Tuesday to consider tougher penalties for separatist actions and even ban parties that engage in separatism.

In a video posted on the Internet, an unidentified pro-Russia activist in the Donetsk government headquarters asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to send “peacekeeping troops” to the region.

“Without your support, without the support of Russia, it will be hard for us to resist the Kiev junta on our own,” he said, referring to the interim authorities that took power after the overthrow of Moscow-backed President Viktor Yanukovych in February.

Earlier in the day, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk also accused Russia of being behind the unrest that broke out in the country’s eastern provinces Sunday and of seeking to sow instability as a pretext for sending troops across the border.

“The plan is to destabilize the situation, the plan is for foreign troops to cross the border and seize the country’s territory, which we will not allow,” he said, adding that those taking part in the unrest have distinct Russian accents.

Yatsenyuk said Russian troops remain stationed within 30 kilometers (19 miles) of the border.

Eastern Ukraine was the heartland of support for Yanukovych, who fled to Russia after months of protests. About half of the region’s residents are ethnic Russians, many of whom believe Ukraine’s acting authorities are nationalists who will oppress Russians.

Ukraine’s interim authorities deny they are infringing the rights of the ethnic Russian population and there has been no evidence of Russians in Ukraine facing harassment.

Since Crimea held a secession referendum and then was annexed by Russia in March, calls for similar votes in Ukraine’s east have emerged.

The international community has expressed growing anxiety over the large Russian troop movements along the Ukrainian border. NATO says up to 40,000 Russian troops have mobilized and present a distinct threat to Ukraine. Russia, for its part, says it has the right to move its troops wherever it wants on its own territory.

Also Monday, Interfax cited police in Donetsk as saying an armed group attempted to seize the regional state television broadcaster. The Interior Ministry said the gunmen fired into the air and police and guards in the building returned fire, Interfax reported.

“After that, the attackers fled to an unknown location,” police were cited as saying.

On Sunday, pro-Russian crowds stormed government buildings in Donetsk, as well as Luhansk and Kharkiv, all cities located in Ukraine’s heavily Russian-speaking east. Authorities say all the storming parties appeared to have been armed.

Pro-Russian demonstrations have taken place across eastern Ukraine over the past few weekends and official buildings have been occupied, but the rallies have generally fizzled out within hours. On Sunday, however, one witness in Donetsk said the crowd included large numbers of masked men who behaved more aggressively than at previous rallies.

On Saturday, Ukraine’s Security Service said it had detained a 15-strong armed gang that was planning to seize power in the eastern province of Luhansk. The agency said it seized 300 machine guns, an antitank grenade launcher, a large number of grenades, five handguns and firebombs.

It was unclear whether that group was linked to those behind Sunday’s disturbances.

In Russia, the ITAR-Tass state news agency cited the deputy speaker of the upper house of parliament, Ilyas Umakhanov, as saying he didn’t see the situation in Donetsk as a replay of events in Crimea.

“I don’t think this situation automatically reflects what happened in Crimea … from the judicial, historical and legal points of view, it demands a separate assessment,” Umakhanov said.

Jim Heintz contributed from Moscow.

Pro-Russians call east Ukraine region independent

KDWN

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Pro-Russian separatists who seized a provincial administration building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk proclaimed the region independent Monday – an echo of events prior to Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Ukrainian authorities called the move an attempt by Russia to sow unrest.

The Interfax news agency said the activists demanded that a referendum be held no later than May 11 on the possible secession of the Donetsk region, which borders Russia.

Outside the administration building, a barricade of car tires and razor wire was built up to keep police from retaking it. Police said those inside the building were armed.

Speaking in a televised address, acting President Oleksandr Turchinov called the events gripping eastern regions – where pro-Russian activists seized government buildings in at least three cities Sunday – an operation undertaken by Russia to sow instability.

“Anti-terrorism measures will be adopted against those that took up weapons,” Turchinov said, adding that parliament would convene Tuesday to consider tougher penalties for separatist actions and even ban parties that engage in separatism.

In a video posted on the Internet, an unidentified pro-Russia activist in the Donetsk government headquarters asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to send “peacekeeping troops” to the region.

“Without your support, without the support of Russia, it will be hard for us to resist the Kiev junta on our own,” he said, referring to the interim authorities that took power after the overthrow of Moscow-backed President Viktor Yanukovych in February.

Earlier in the day, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk also accused Russia of being behind the unrest that broke out in the country’s eastern provinces Sunday and of seeking to sow instability as a pretext for sending troops across the border.

“The plan is to destabilize the situation, the plan is for foreign troops to cross the border and seize the country’s territory, which we will not allow,” he said, adding that those taking part in the unrest have distinct Russian accents.

Yatsenyuk said Russian troops remain stationed within 30 kilometers (19 miles) of the border.

Eastern Ukraine was the heartland of support for Yanukovych, who fled to Russia after months of protests. About half of the region’s residents are ethnic Russians, many of whom believe Ukraine’s acting authorities are nationalists who will oppress Russians.

Ukraine’s interim authorities deny they are infringing the rights of the ethnic Russian population and there has been no evidence of Russians in Ukraine facing harassment.

Since Crimea held a secession referendum and then was annexed by Russia in March, calls for similar votes in Ukraine’s east have emerged.

The international community has expressed growing anxiety over the large Russian troop movements along the Ukrainian border. NATO says up to 40,000 Russian troops have mobilized and present a distinct threat to Ukraine. Russia, for its part, says it has the right to move its troops wherever it wants on its own territory.

Also Monday, Interfax cited police in Donetsk as saying an armed group attempted to seize the regional state television broadcaster. The Interior Ministry said the gunmen fired into the air and police and guards in the building returned fire, Interfax reported.

“After that, the attackers fled to an unknown location,” police were cited as saying.

On Sunday, pro-Russian crowds stormed government buildings in Donetsk, as well as Luhansk and Kharkiv, all cities located in Ukraine’s heavily Russian-speaking east. Authorities say all the storming parties appeared to have been armed.

Pro-Russian demonstrations have taken place across eastern Ukraine over the past few weekends and official buildings have been occupied, but the rallies have generally fizzled out within hours. On Sunday, however, one witness in Donetsk said the crowd included large numbers of masked men who behaved more aggressively than at previous rallies.

On Saturday, Ukraine’s Security Service said it had detained a 15-strong armed gang that was planning to seize power in the eastern province of Luhansk. The agency said it seized 300 machine guns, an antitank grenade launcher, a large number of grenades, five handguns and firebombs.

It was unclear whether that group was linked to those behind Sunday’s disturbances.

In Russia, the ITAR-Tass state news agency cited the deputy speaker of the upper house of parliament, Ilyas Umakhanov, as saying he didn’t see the situation in Donetsk as a replay of events in Crimea.

“I don’t think this situation automatically reflects what happened in Crimea … from the judicial, historical and legal points of view, it demands a separate assessment,” Umakhanov said.

Jim Heintz contributed from Moscow.