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Police ‘helpless’ as separatists tighten grip on eastern Ukraine

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24 , Ukraine

Latest update : 2014-04-30

Pro-Russian separatists seized control of state buildings in the town of Horlivka Wednesday, tightening their grip on swathes of Ukraine’s industrial east with police “helpless” to quell the unrest, according to the country’s interim president.

Insurgents wielding automatic weapons took control of the city council Wednesday morning, adding to the police building which they have controlled for several weeks.

An Associated Press reporter saw a small group of men standing guard outside the building and checking the documents of those entering. One of the men said foreign reporters would not be allowed in and threatened to arrest anyone who did not obey orders.

The town of almost 300,000 people sits just north of Donetsk, where mainly Russian-speaking separatists have declared a 'People's Republic' and plan a secession referendum on May 11.

The operation in Horlivka follows the fall to separatists of provincial capital Luhansk, further east towards the Russian border. Ukrainian police said on Tuesday night that they had abandoned their regional headquarters in Luhansk to a crowd of pro-Moscow protesters.

“I will be frank: Today, security forces are unable to quickly take the situation in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions under control,” Oleksandr Turchinov, the country’s interim president said at a meeting in Kiev Wednesday.

“The security bodies ... are unable to carry out their duties of protecting citizens. They are helpless in those matters. Moreover, some of those units are either helping or cooperating with terrorist organisations,” he was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

The goal now was to prevent the separatist movement spreading to other parts of the country, Turchinov said.

Towns and cities across Ukraine's Donbass coalfield - where giant steel smelters and heavy plants produce around a third of the country's industrial output - have slipped from the control of the pro-Western central government since April 6.

The armed uprising followed the overthrow of Moscow-backed President Viktor Yanukovich and Russia's annexation of Crimea, in a tug-of-war between the West and Russia over the ex-Soviet republic of some 45 million people, a vital transit route for Russian gas to Europe.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AP, AFP)

Date created : 2014-04-30

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