Pro-Moscow separatists controlling the east Ukrainian town of Slavyansk called for Russian peacekeepers to deploy and announced a curfew after a gun battle nearby killed up to five people.
Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, the rebel leader in the town, said he had appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin "to study the possibility of sending peacekeepers to defend the population against the fascists" -- the term Moscow and the separatists use to describe Ukraine's new government and its supporters.
He also announced a curfew for the town of 130,000 people, during which it would be forbidden to be out in the streets. "The curfew comes into effect today -- from midnight (2100 GMT) to 6:00 am (0300 GMT)," he said. A car with a megaphone drove around Slavyansk's streets repeating the order.
The steps came hours after a deadly gun battle at a road block in the village of Bilbasivka, 18 kilometres (11 miles) west of Slavyansk.
Russian state television reported on Sunday that five people were killed when gunmen attacked the checkpoint; three of the dead were with the pro-Russian separatists who control Slaviansk and the other two were among the attackers.
Russia's foreign ministry said on Sunday it was "outraged" by the attack, which it blamed on the Right Sector, a Kiev-based ultra-nationalist group that was at the vanguard of street protests that forced the February ousting of pro-Kremlin Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.
‘Lies and propoganda’?
The Right Sector has dismissed the charge as "lies" and "propaganda" designed to portray eastern Ukraine as ungovernable by Kiev.
The gun battle was the first violence reported since a Geneva accord worked out between Russia, Ukraine, the United States and the European Union that is meant to see "illegal armed groups" lay down their weapons and cease their occupation of public buildings.
Slaviansk, which is in the troubled Donetsk region has become a flashpoint in the Ukrainian crisis after gunmen took control of government buildings last weekend. Since then, separatists have declared themselves part of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” and demanded a referendum on independence.
Russian President Vladimir Putin overturned decades of post-Cold War diplomacy last month by declaring Russia had a right to intervene in neighbouring countries and by annexing Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula of Crimea.
That followed the overthrow of Ukraine’s pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovich after months of street protests prompted by his rejection of a trade deal with the EU.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-04-20