Pro-Russia militants raise flags in east Ukraine

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Armed men stand in front of the police headquarters building in Slaviansk, April 12, 2014. Photo- Reuters
Armed men have raised a Russian flag at a police and security headquarters that they seized on Saturday morning, in the latest takeover of a public buildings by Pro-Russian protesters in eastern Ukraine.
Gunmen occupied a police station and a security services building in the town of Sloviansk. Official buildings in Druzhkovka were reportedly taken over.
At least 20 men armed with pistols and rifles took over the police and security services headquarters in the city, about 150km from the border with Russia.
Officials said the men had seized hundreds of pistols from arsenals in the buildings. The gunmen replaced the Ukrainian flag on one of the buildings with the red, white and blue Russian flag.
Speaking shortly after the separatists seized the police station, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said Ukrainian special forces had been dispatched to the scene.
"Our response will be very severe,"  Avakov wrote on his Facebook page.
"There is zero tolerance for armed terrorists," he added.
Gunmen occupied a police station and a security services building in the town of Sloviansk. Official buildings in Druzhkovka were reportedly taken over.
In Donetsk itself hundreds of pro-Russian protesters marched towards a police station demanding the resignation of a regional police chief, Kostyantyn Pozhydayev.
He later told the protesters he was standing down.
Ukraine\’s prime minister has told leaders in the country\’s restive east that he is committed to allowing regions to have more powers, after a 48-hour ultimatum given to pro-Russian separatists passed without progress in a crisis that threatens the country\’s unity.
He is holding talks with regional leaders in Donetsk, where activists demanding self-rule are holding a big government building.
It is not clear if Arseniy Yatsenyuk\’s offer will satisfy the separatists.
In Donetsk,  Yatsenyuk urged regional leaders to tell locals that the Kiev government would ensure security and economic progress in the east, Interfax news agency reports.
"In the framework of the changed constitution, we will be able to satisfy specific requests of every single region," he pledged.
Yatsenyuk pledged that the Russian language would keep its official status in the region, in parallel with Ukrainian.
Yatsenyuk is also expected to travel to another eastern city, Dnipropetrovsk, which has also seen protests.
The government had offered amnesty for those who surrender but initially threatened to use force if the buildings were not cleared by Friday morning.
There were no signs the government was following through on its threat to forcibly vacate the buildings. Neither was there evidence protesters were about to surrender. 
NATO on Thursday released aerial photographs showing what it says are 40,000 Russian troops, along with tanks and aircraft massed near the Ukrainian border. 
The imagery released to news outlets, follows repeated Russian assurances the deployment is no cause for alarm.
On Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he is ready for four-party talks on Ukraine with the U.S., the European Union and Kyiv. 
But he said in order for tensions to be reduced, the West should stop its efforts to "legitimize" Ukraine\’s pro-Western leaders. 
Ukraine\’s current government came to power following the so-called "Euromaidan" protests that forced the country\’s pro-Russian leaders from power in February.
A month later, Moscow proceeded to annex Ukraine\’s Crimean peninsula, a move that prompted Washington to impose sanctions on Russia. 
The U.S. is threatening to impose more economic penalties if Russia does not pull back its troops from the border. 
A White House statement on Thursday said the U.S. and its allies are "prepared to meet further Russian escalation with additional sanctions." 
At the World Bank/IMF spring meetings in Washington Thursday, U.S. leaders also threatened more sanctions against Russia. 
U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew told his Russian counterpart he could expect "significant" sanctions in the event of further escalation.
Language is a highly sensitive issue in eastern Ukraine, where ties with Russia are strong. 
A similar move prompted a Russian takeover of Ukraine\’s Crimea region earlier this year.
The US and EU have imposed sanctions on Russian and Crimean people they say were connected with the takeover.
Russia has denied responsibility for the protests in eastern Ukraine, but Western nations have expressed concern over a build-up of Russian troops along the border.
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Source: Agencies

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