Ukraine crackdown on pro-Moscow separatists gets off to slow start

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These Ukrainian troops and tanks were parked 70km (44 miles) from Sloviansk on Monday.
Kiev has said an "anti-terrorist operation" against pro-Moscow separatists is underway, as Russia declared Ukraine on the brink of a civil war.
Ukraine\’s acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, told the parliament meeting on Tuesday that operations had started in the eastern Donetsk region, although it would happen in stages and in a considered way.
 
“Plans of the Russian Federation were and remain brutal. They want not only Donbas [the Donetsk region] to be on fire. They want the whole south and east of Ukraine to be on fire – from Kharkiv region to Odessa region,” Turchnyov said at the parliament session in Kyiv.
Amid the deepest crisis between Russia and western countries since the Cold War, the leaders of Russia and the United States called on each other to do all in their power to avoid further bloodshed.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev gave a gloomy assessment after at least two people died on Sunday when Kiev unsuccessfully tried to regain control in Slovyansk, one of about 10 towns and cities where the separatists have seized buildings.
"Blood has once again been spilt in Ukraine. The country is on the brink of civil war," he said in a statement posted on his Facebook page on Tuesday.
Ukraine has accused Russia of stirring up the separatists following its annexation of Crimea, while Moscow says Kiev has provoked the crisis by ignoring the interests of its citizens who use Russian as their first language.
Pro-Russian activists have attacked another official building in east Ukraine, ignoring a deadline to leave or face eviction by Ukrainian forces.
US President Barack Obama has urged his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to use his influence to make separatists in eastern Ukraine stand down.
The phone call between the two leaders came as pro-Russian activists continued to occupy buildings in eastern towns.
The White House said the "frank and direct" conversation between the two presidents was made at Russia\’s request.
"The president expressed grave concern about Russian government support for the actions of armed, pro-Russian separatists who threaten to undermine and destabilise the government of Ukraine," a statement said.
"The president emphasised that all irregular forces in the country need to lay down their arms, and he urged President Putin to use his influence with these armed, pro-Russian groups to convince them to depart the buildings they have seized."
The statement also threatened Moscow with wider sanctions, saying "the costs Russia already has incurred will increase if those actions persist".
Dozens of protesters smashed windows of the police headquarters in the eastern Ukrainian city of Horlivka and scuffled with police as they took control of the facility. Video of the confrontation showed an ambulance where injured people were being treated.
The pro-Russian demonstrators, sheltering behind barricades in the occupied buildings, are demanding a referendum on whether to split with Ukraine and join Russia – similar to last month\’s vote in Crimea.
A deadline for pro-Russian militants to hand over their weapons and leave buildings they have occupied in eastern Ukraine has passed without signs of rebels complying.
As the 9am deadline issued by authorities in Kiev expired on Monday, Reuters news agency reported that there was no outward sign the rebels were complying with the ultimatum in the city of Slovyansk.
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.
The conflict between pro-Russian gunmen and Ukraine’s authorities turned bloody on Sunday, with one security service officer killed and reports of people wounded on both sides, as the struggle for the country’s east escalated one week after separatists began systematically occupying government buildings.
The new administration in Kiev is struggling for credibility in the east of the country and several towns and cities were effectively taken over by pro-Russian groups over the weekend.
Sloviansk, in the Donetsk region, is completely surrounded by rebel barricades and checkpoints manned by pro-Russian militia are stationed on major roads leading into the city.
Although Kiev has promised to take back control of Sloviansk, an all-out assault carries huge risks and could trigger a reaction from Russia, which has tens of thousands of troops camped near its border with Ukraine.
Russia came under heavy criticism during an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council Sunday night. 
U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power accused the Russians of "writing and choreographing" the violence in Ukraine.
British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant says satellite images show as many as 40,000 heavily armed Russian troops massed near the Ukrainian border.
Russia insists it has the right to protect Russian speakers it says are under threat in Ukraine. Russia accuses the interim Ukrainian government of being anti-Russian and anti-Semitic extremists.
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said the West has the power and the influence to push the Ukrainians towards dialogue and away from force.
Ukraine\’s Ambassador Yuriy Sergeyev said Russia\’s comments do not correspond with reality. He called on the Russians to immediately stop violating Ukrainian sovereignty.
Ukrainian special forces and pro-Russian militia exchanged gunfire in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slovyansk Sunday, with both sides reporting casualties. Pro-Russian gunmen had taken over the Slovyansk police station and government facilities in the cities of Donetsk and Kramatorsk.
Top diplomats from Russia, the United States, Ukraine and the European Union are set to hold emergency talks on the crisis April 17 in Geneva. White House officials say U.S. Vice President Joe Biden will travel to Kyiv April 22.
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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