UK & World News

  • 7 May 2014, 15:24

Ukraine Forces Seize Rebel-Held City Hall

Ukrainian forces have withdrawn from Mariupol city hall after a night of heavy fighting saw them recapture the rebel-held building.

Ukraine's Channel 5 television said earlier that the National Guard had seized the building, forcing pro-Russian rebels on to the streets.

But, according to witnesses, the soldiers made no attempt to hold on to it and pulled out after smashingfurniture and office equipment.

It comes as Russian PresidentVladimir Putinurged separatists in southeast Ukraine to postpone a May 11 referendum on autonomy.

Foreign Secretary William Hague, who is holding talks in Kiev with the country's leaders, had told Sky News the referendum was an attempt to "disrupt" the elections being held in Ukraine on May 25.

"This will not be a referendum organised on a basis that most of the population can take part in it, so this is really an attempt to disrupt the elections," he said.

"It's very important those elections go ahead (and) that we give international support to that.

"The people here have a right to choose their own government and their own president.

"This should be a successful democracy, and our interest is in it being a democracy where they make their own choices."

Separatists in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region told the Reuters news agency they would consider Mr Putin's request at a meeting on Thursday.

US Secretary of State John Kerry had claimed the referendum this weekend was a fresh bid by Moscow to annex more territory.

"This is really the Crimea playbook all over again, and no civilised nation is going to recognise the results of such a bogus effort," he said.

"We flatly reject this illegal effort to further divide Ukraine."

Nato's top military commander has said it may deploy troops permanently in parts of Eastern Europe due to the increased tensions between Russia and Ukraine.

US Air Force General Philip Breedlove said: "I think this is something we will have to consider and we will tee this up for discussion through the leaderships of our nations to see where that leads.

"We need to look at our responsiveness, our readiness and then our positioning of forces to be able to address this new paradigm that we have seen demonstrated in Crimea and now on the eastern border of Ukraine."

Nato currently has a number of short-term army, air force and naval rotations in Eastern Europe until the end of this year.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has 40,000 troops on the border with Ukraine but has so far held off ordering an invasion to "protect" the Russian-speaking population.

In a financial boost, Ukraine's central bank says it has received aid worth $3.19bn from the International Monetary Fund - the first instalment of an overall IMF package of $17bn.

Kiev is expected to use the money to pay an outstanding debt to Russia's state-owned gas firm Gazprom, which has threatened to turn off the taps if it does not receive pre-payments this month.

Advertisement