Ukraine issues two-day ultimatum to protesters
LUHANSK - Reuters
People gather in front of a barricade at the regional administration building in Donetsk, April 9, 2014. AP PhotoUkrainian interior minister warned April 9 that they are prepared to use force to clear several government buildings seized by pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country.
Protesters continued to occupy the headquarters of Ukraine’s Security Service in the eastern city of Luhansk.
The security agency had earlier said that the separatists inside the building, armed with explosives and other weapons, allowed 56 hostages to leave the building during the night. A spokeswoman said there were no other hostages. But Tetyana Pohukay, a regional police spokeswoman, disputed that statement, saying there had never been any hostages inside, according to the Interfax news agency.
The Luhansk security services building was among several government offices seized by pro-Moscow groups on April 6 in an escalation of protests against the interim government in power since the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych.
Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said the standoff in Luhansk and the two neighboring Russian-leaning regions of Donetsk and Kharkiv must be resolved within the next two days. “I want to repeat that there are two options: political settlement through negotiations and the use of force,” Avakov told reporters. “We are ready for both options.”
A spokesman for the protesters holding the building in Luhansk said that 50 people had left overnight and that talks on resolving the crisis were continuing. Others remained there.
Activists, many in balaclavas and masks, continued to build up barricades using tyres, wooden crates and sandbags, and prepared petrol bombs. Several were holding automatic rifles.
"Those who left were not ready to stay and fight," said the spokesman, who gave his name as Vasily and said his "soldiers" would fight on until a referendum on independence from Kiev was held.
"We of course must ask Russia to let us join it," he said, adding that he hoped for assistance from President Vladimir Putin."
The Ukrainian government says the occupations are part of a Russian-led plan to dismember the country, a charge Moscow denies.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry accused Russian agents and special forces on Tuesday of stirring separatist unrest and said Moscow could be trying to prepare for military action as it had in Crimea.
Russia denied the accusations on April 9 and dismissed concerns over a troop buildup near the border with Ukraine in what has become the worst East-West crisis since the end of the Cold War in 1991.
"The United States and Ukraine have no reason to be worried," the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
"Russia has stated many times that it is not carrying out any unusual or unplanned activity on its territory near the border with Ukraine that would be of military significance."