Deadly clashes in eastern Ukraine city Slovyansk

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Ukrainian commandos outside Sloviansk, 24 April Ukrainian commandos outside Sloviansk on Thursday.
Ukraine\’s military has clashed with pro-Russian rebels in two eastern towns overnight, according to the Ukrainian interior and defence ministries, amid accusations by the US that Russia is going against "the spirit" of a deal to ease tensions. 
Ukrainian forces killed five militants during operations to take down the pro-Russians\’ roadblocks in Slovyansk on Thursday, the Ukrainian interior ministry said.
No shots were heard during that takeover but the Ukrainian Interior Ministry said that its forces and troops from the Defence Ministry had killed "up to five terrorists" while destroying three militant checkpoints northeast of the center.
A separatist spokeswoman in Slaviansk said early in the morning that two fighters were killed in clash in the same area, near a road leading to the town of Sviatogorsk.
Separatists are occupying key buildings in at least a dozen eastern towns.
It appears that pro-government forces have regained control of the city hall in another eastern town, Mariupol.
In another development, the funeral is taking place of a pro-Ukrainian politician, Volodymyr Rybak, who was abducted and killed in Donetsk region.
Separatist sources also reported the loss of the town hall in Mariupol. The city was the scene of a rebel attack on troops last week that left three rebels dead. The separatists had held the town hall since April 13.
"The town hall is liberated and can function normally," Arsen Avakov, the interior minister, said on his Facebook page.
The Defence Ministry said in a statement that Ukranian forces repelled nearly 100 separatists who "opened fire with automatic weapons, machine guns and grenades" in an attack on the military base in Artemivsk, just north of rebel-held Donetsk.
"The attackers were repelled and suffered significant losses," Oleksandr Turchynov, Ukraine\’s acting president, said.
Avakov\’s Facebook message referred to a Russian with a "vast beard" leading the attack. 
The AFP and Reuters news agencies meanwhile reported that a rebel-held checkpoint in Slovyansk had been commandeered by Ukrainian troops after rebels apparently abandoned the position.
The AFP further reported that rebels holding the town hall were ordered to leave by Ukraine troops.
Russia has said it will respond if its "legitimate interests" are attacked, as Ukraine announced it had ended an Easter truce and was relaunching "anti-terrorist" operations against pro-Russian separatists on its territory.
First Deputy Prime Minister Vitaliy Yarema told reporters during a Cabinet meeting Wednesday that "appropriate steps" will be taken and that results will be seen shortly.
Yarema said Ukraine has received assurances from the United States that it would not be left alone to face Russian aggression. He expressed hope that the U.S. support will be more substantive.
Ukraine\’s interim president, Oleksandr Turchynov, has already ordered security forces to resume "anti-terrorist" operations in eastern Ukraine. His order came just hours after U.S. Vice President Joe Biden ended a two-day trip to Kiyv Tuesday.
U.S. President Barack Obama, speaking to reporters Thursday in Tokyo, Japan, said Russia is not abiding by the Geneva agreement to ease the crisis in Ukraine and says he is not hopeful the Russians will cooperate.
He said Russia has chosen not to take the "wise path" and faces stronger sanctions, while he says Ukraine has been taking the concrete steps agreed to last week in Geneva. That includes offering amnesty to pro-Russian separatists who leave the buildings peacefully. 
In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told state television that Russia would retaliate if its legitimate interests or Russians are attacked. He said Moscow\’s response would be the same as it was in South Ossetia in 2008, which led to a brief war with Georgia.
Speaking to Russian state TV channel RT, Mr Lavrov also accused the US of "running the show" in Ukraine.
And in a statement, Russia\’s foreign ministry repeated its call for Ukraine to withdraw military units from the country\’s east.
He referenced the Georgian war of 2008, where Russia invaded Georgia after Tblisi attacked rebels in the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia, which had aligned itself with Moscow.
"If our interests, our legitimate interests, the interests of Russians have been attacked directly, like they were in South Ossetia for example, I do not see any other way but to respond in accordance with international law."
Separately, Russia accused Kyiv and the U.S. of distorting an agreement reached in Geneva last week to defuse the crisis in Ukraine and of ignoring what it said were provocative actions by Ukrainian nationalists.
 
Russia still believes the West is serious about seeking peace in Ukraine but “the facts speak of the opposite,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement issued Wednesday.
It repeated Moscow\’s calls for the immediate withdrawal of Ukrainian military units from southeastern Ukraine and the start of an inclusive dialogue in the former Soviet republic.
Ukraine says, and many in the West agree, that the separatist unrest is being staged in large part by undercover Russian special forces with the aim of destabilizing Ukraine and creating a pretext for a possible military intervention.
Ukrainian military moves last week to drive separatists from government buildings they have seized in about a dozen cities and towns failed.
Pro-Russian gunmen are demanding the right to hold referendums on seceeding from Ukraine and joining Russia. A vote last month in Crimea, which Kyiv and many in West condemned as illegitimate, led to the Russian annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula.
 
U.S. Army paratroopers are set to begin joint exercises with their counterparts in Poland Wednesday as part of what the Pentagon says is a "tangible expression" of the U.S. commitment to Europe.
 
Washington is sending a total of about 600 paratroopers to Poland and three Baltic states in response to ongoing tensions in Ukraine.
 
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby does not deny the move is the result of what he called "Russia\’s aggression in Ukraine."
Video footage from last Thursday on local news site gorlovka.ua shows angry scenes outside the town hall of Horlivka, between the separatist flashpoint cities of Donetsk and Slovyansk, as town councilman Volodymyr Rybak is manhandled by several men, among them a masked man in camouflage, while other people hurl abuse.
Rybak had tried to remove a flag of the separatist Donetsk Republic, the website said.
Ukraine\’s Interior Ministry said that after the confrontation Rybak was seen being bundled into a car by masked men in camouflage. His body was found on Saturday near Slovyansk.
He and another, unidentified, man appeared to have been tortured and dumped alive in a river to drown, police concluded.
Russian gas giant Gazprom has said it will turn off supplies to Ukraine next month unless Kyiv pays its outstanding debts. The move would have a ripple effect on deliveries to Europe, because much of the gas shipped westwards has to pass through Ukrainian territory.
Ukrainian Energy Minister Yuri Prodan said Russia had proposed a ministerial meeting on Thursday with Ukrainian and European officials in Slovakia to talk about gas but the European Commission said Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger was not expected to attend any talks.
Both the EU and the U.S. are considering a third round of sanctions against Russia if it escalates tensions in Ukraine.
Source: Agencies

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