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Uniformed men occupy Ukraine's Donetsk police HQ

Apr 12 2014, 22:05 IST
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SummaryMen in the uniforms of Ukraine's now-defunct riot police on Saturday occupied police headquarters in Donetsk

Men in the uniforms of Ukraine's now-defunct riot police on Saturday occupied police headquarters in Donetsk, the eastern city that is one of the flashpoints of a wave of pro-Russia protests, hours after armed men seized local police headquarters and local branch of the Security Service in a nearby city.

The unrest in Donetsk and Slovyansk, about 90 kilometers (55 miles) to the north, were the latest shows of spiraling anger in eastern Ukraine, which has a large Russian-speaking population and was also the support base for Viktor Yanukovych, the Ukrainian president who was ousted in February after months of protests in the capital, Kiev. Ethnic Russians in Ukraine's east widely fear that the authorities who took over after Yanukovych's fall will suppress them.

In Slovyansk, the mayor said the men who seized the police station were demanding a referendum on autonomy and possible annexation by Russia. Protesters in other eastern cities have made similar demands after a referendum in Crimea last month in which voters opted to split off from Ukraine, leading to annexation by Russia.

A regional news website said another police station had been seized in the town of Krasnyi Lyman, a town near Slovyansk, but that report could not immediately be confirmed. In Kramatorsk, another town near Slovyansk, protesters flew the flag of the Independent Donetsk Republic above the local administration building, according to Kramatorsk's news website.

Witnesses said the men who entered the police building in Donetsk were wearing the uniforms of the Berkut, the feared riot police squad that was disbanded in February after Yanukovych's ouster. Berkut officers' violent dispersal of a demonstration in Kiev in November set off vast protests in the capital that culminated in bloodshed in February when more than 100 people died in sniper fire; the acting government says the snipers were police.

It was not immediately clear if the men who occupied the Donetsk police building had made any demands, but the Donetsk police chief said on national television that he was forced to offer his resignation. Interfax Ukraine reported that pro-Russian protesters had invited the former police chief to resume his duties.

In Slovyansk, about 20 men in balaclavas armed with automatic rifles and pistols were guarding the entrance to the police station in the city of about 120,000 people, and another 20 were believed to be inside. They wore St. George's ribbons, which have become a symbol of pro-Russian protesters in eastern

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