Open

Coming up

Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

DEBATE

Europe's Plan for Putin - Will Russian Leader Bend After New Sanctions? (part 2)

Read more

DEBATE

Europe's Plan for Putin - Will Russian Leader Bend After New Sanctions?

Read more

FOCUS

Pakistan's Ahmadis living in fear of extremist attacks

Read more

WEB NEWS

Web users show solidarity with Iraqi Christians

Read more

THE INTERVIEW

Gilles Kepel, Islamic and Arab world specialist

Read more

BUSINESS DAILY

Argentina braced for another debt default

Read more

DEBATE

Too Late for Sanctions? Pressure Mounts on Russia over Ukraine (part 2)

Read more

DEBATE

Too Late for Sanctions? Pressure Mounts on Russia over Ukraine

Read more

MEDIAWATCH

'What would you do?'

Read more

  • US and EU slap Russia with fresh sanctions over Ukraine

    Read more

  • Scores killed as Israel ramps up Gaza bombardment

    Read more

  • Graphic: Ebola spreads across West Africa

    Read more

  • Prosecutor says captives were killed for organ harvesting in Kosovo

    Read more

  • In pictures: ن - a sign of support for Iraq’s persecuted Christians

    Read more

  • Calls mount to ban France’s ‘violent’ Jewish Defence League

    Read more

  • Venezuela: Hugo Chavez’s ‘little bird’ strikes again

    Read more

  • France extradites suspected Jewish Museum shooter to Belgium

    Read more

  • Video: How tourism is helping Rwanda’s gorillas, ex-poachers

    Read more

  • Rare Sri Lankan leopard cubs born in French zoo

    Read more

  • France evacuates its nationals from Libya

    Read more

  • US says Russia violated arms treaty by testing cruise missile

    Read more

  • Argentina in last-ditch effort to avert default

    Read more

  • In pictures: From Gaza to Mosul, bittersweet end of Ramadan for Muslims

    Read more

Europe

Detainees freed after pro-Russians attack Odessa police station

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-05-05

Scores of people detained in Odessa after Friday clashes have been released, Ukraine's interior ministry said, after hundreds of pro-Russian activists attacked a police station in the southern port city on Sunday in a bid to free their comrades.

The activists forced open the gate and broke windows in a bid to gain access to the police building.

In a bid to calm the mob, police released dozens of the pro-Russians who had been arrested Friday during running battles with supporters of the pro-Western government in Kiev. The interior ministry said in a statement that 67 people had been released.

"They were simply released under pressure from those pro-Russian demonstrators," said FRANCE 24's Gulliver Cragg, reporting from Odessa.

Some officers were offered the black and orange St. George’s ribbon, a Russian military insignia that has become a symbol of the revolt, and were cheered by a crowd of several hundred.

The seige of the police station was the latest violence to hit the city in three days of unrest. Deadly clashes erupted Friday as Ukrainian forces pressed on with an offensive against pro-Russian separatists in the east and have been viewed as a measure of just how far the country’s crisis has spun out of control. Located on the Black Sea, Odessa is more than 500 kilometres (around 310 miles) from separatist-controlled cities in eastern Ukraine such as Slaviansk and Donetsk, where most of the unrest has been concentrated.

Violent street battles

The situation in Odessa took a violent turn after a group of football fans, chanting support for Ukraine’s leaders, clashed with another group of men, dressed in black. Chaotic scenes ensued, during which petrol bombs were reportedly thrown and shots were heard.

At least 42 people were killed in the ensuing street battles, authorities said, at least 37 of whom died after retreating into the trade union building, which later caught on fire. While most of the victims apparently succumbed to burns or smoke inhalation, some were reported to have jumped to their deaths.

On Saturday morning, dozens of people placed flowers near the burnt-out doors of the trade union building, lighting candles and putting up the yellow, white and red flag of the city. About 2,000 pro-Russian protesters outside the building chanted “Odessa is a Russian city”.

Ukraine’s government said the violence was provoked by foreign demonstrators sent in from Transdniestria, a breakaway pro-Russian region of Moldova where Russia has a military garrison. Kiev said most of the dead who had been identified so far were from that region.

The Kremlin, however, blamed Ukraine’s government.

“Kiev and its Western sponsors are practically provoking the bloodshed and bear direct responsibility for it,” RIA Novosti quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as telling reporters.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk told a news conference on Sunday that "Russia's aim was to repeat in Odessa what is happening in the east of the country".

Yatseniuk has been pointedly critical of the Odessa police’s handling of the situation, and on Saturday, the city’s police chief was fired. Yatseniuk has said that other changes in the police leadership are planned.

“If the law enforcement system in Odessa had worked not exclusively on the ‘Seventh Kilometre’ and had protected people, then these terrorist organisations would have been foiled,” he said during a speech in the Black Sea port.

The Seventh Kilometre is an open market on the edge of Odessa, associated in the popular consciousness with the corruption and black market business that have blighted Ukraine’s 23 years of post-Soviet independence.

The city’s new police chief Ivan Katerinchuk on Sunday addressed hundreds of supporters of the Kiev authorities who had gathered near the site of the blaze late on Sunday, vowing to bring those behind Friday’s deaths to justice, whatever their allegiance.

“Like you, I want to restore law and order to Ukraine,” he said.
 

Slaviansk 'surrounded'

The Ukrainian army, meanwhile, is continuing its offensive against pro-Russian separatists in the country’s east, tightening its grip on the restive town of Slaviansk and blocking access to the main road into the city, the pro-Russian rebels in control of the town said on Sunday.

"The town is completely surrounded," a rebel spokeswoman, Stella Khorocheva, told AFP.

Witneses outside the city saw seven Ukrainian armoured vehicles setting up a checkpoint along the route to the regional capital, Donetsk.

Ukrainian forces have reportedly also retaken control of a television tower and a security services building in the town of Kramatorsk, just south of Slaviansk.

Pro-Russian separatists in Slaviansk on Saturday released seven military observers working for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), as well as five Ukrainian assistants, who had been seized the week before.

But despite the gains by Ukrainian forces, many pro-Russian separatists have not budged from their positions, according to FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Ukraine, Douglas Herbert.

“I was at checkpoints on the outskirts of Kramatorsk, where the separatists were very much still dug in. We saw Ukrainian helicopters flying low in the skies over the region, but the separatists were going nowhere. They were well-armed and they’re very much determined,” Herbert reported Sunday from Donetsk.

Herbert also said that there is only so much Ukraine’s forces can do in the east if they want to avoid a broader conflict. Since the crisis began, Russia has massed tens of thousands of soldiers on the border with Ukraine, proclaiming it has the right to invade to protect Russian speakers if needed.

Western countries have accused Russia of stoking the unrest in eastern Ukraine and fear Moscow may be planning to repeat its annexation of Crimea in other parts of the country. Russia has denied the allegations.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS and AFP)

 

FRANCE 24's Douglas Herbert briefly detained after shots ring out in Lugansk

 

Date created : 2014-05-04

  • UKRAINE

    OSCE observers held in Ukraine released by separatists

    Read more

  • UKRAINE

    Ukraine continues military offensive in east

    Read more

  • UKRAINE

    Ukrainian unrest spreads as dozens killed in Odessa

    Read more

COMMENT(S)