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Separatists in eastern Ukraine prepare to vote in referendum

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-05-11

As pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine prepared to hold a referendum on whether to declare their independence on Sunday, acting President Oleksander Turchinov warned that a “yes” vote could mean self-destruction.

The vote will be held in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions, where pro-Russian separatists have occupied government buildings in a number of towns, and have taken complete control of the city Slaviansk. The referendum has been dismissed by Ukraine’s government and other Western countries as illegitimate.

“Those who stand for self-rule do not understand that it would mean complete destruction of the economy, social programmes and life in general for the majority of the population in these regions,” Turchinov said in a statement published on his website Saturday.

Separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk, which are predominantly Russian-speaking, say they are defending themselves against a Ukrainian government they portray as anti-Russian. Ukraine, backed by the United States and the European Union, has accused Russia of seeking to destabilise it, a charge that the Kremlin denies.

‘Into the abyss’

Turchinov urged eastern regions to reject the referendum, saying secession from Ukraine “would be a step into the abyss”.

He also appealed to political forces in the east to join round table talks on greater autonomy. But, in reference to pro-Russian militants, he said “terrorists” would not be included.

Meanwhile, in Slaviansk, streets were blocked by barricades of tyres, furniture and scrap metal.

“Everyone here is voting, and voting for the republic,” said Larissa Ivanovna, who runs the cloakroom at Slaviansk’s central market. “We can’t live in a country together with murderers like Turchinov.”

Lyudmila, aged 28 and unemployed, had been waiting two hours for a bus that she wasn’t sure would turn up because of the barricades.

“Look at this place, everything is run-down or closed altogether. How can we support ourselves on our own?” she asked. “They need to sit down and figure out a compromise so we can live in a united Ukraine.”

Slaviansk’s rebel mayor Vyacheslav Ponomaryov told a news conference he expected a 100 percent turnout in the election. He described Turchinov and his government as a “junta”.

Ongoing unrest

In the port city of Mariupol, between seven and 20 people were killed on Friday when Ukrainian forces entered the port city and fought with local gunmen for control of police headquarters.

On Saturday a handful of pro-Russians wearing motorcycle helmets, some carrying batons or clubs, were manning street barricades of tyres, garbage containers and chairs. Smoke was still coming from the partially burnt-out administration building. Ukrainian forces remained on the outskirts of town.

Video on YouTube showed an armoured car captured by rebels set on fire and ammunition exploding.

In the city of Donetsk, rebels released several members of the Red Cross whom they held for seven hours. One had been beaten, a Red Cross official in Kiev said.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)

Date created : 2014-05-10

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