UK & World News

  • 9 April 2014, 12:17

Ukraine Hands Separatists 48-Hour Deadline

Ukraine has said it is prepared to forcibly remove pro-Russian separatists from eastern government buildings to end the crisis within the next 48 hours.

Interim Interior Minister Arsen Avakov told protesters they must either take part in negotiations or face the use of force.

Mr Avakov said: "For those who want dialogue, we propose talks and a political solution. For the minority who want conflict they will get a forceful answer from the Ukrainian authorities."

He said the government's anti-terrorist operation was ready to carry out "all planned actions at any moment," adding that the ultimatum will bring the standoff to an end within two days.

Pro-Russian separatists have occupied state buildings in the eastern cities of Luhansk and Donetsk since Sunday.

They also stormed a building in the eastern city of Kharkiv but were promptly removed by police.

On Wednesday activists In Luhansk reinforced their barricades around a local headquarters of Ukraine's Security Service (the SBU). 

However police denied earlier reports that hostages had been held inside the building. 

The SBU said activists armed with explosives and weapons were holding at least 60 people against their will after storming the headquarters on Sunday. 

It has since said 56 people have been released, although it did not specify whether they were among the 60 initially thought to have been taken.

The protesters fiercely denied the allegations.

Pro-Moscow separatists in Ukraine's east, which has a large ethnic Russian population, are calling for a vote on joining the Russian Federation.

In Donetsk, protesters inside the regional authority building have already declared a separatist republic.

The latest unrest strongly echoes the build-up to Russia's annexation of Crimea which came after voters overwhelmingly backed referendum on leaving Ukraine.

Many in the east are suspicious of the new Western-friendly interim government which replaced Ukraine's Kremlin-allied President Viktor Yanukovych following mass protests in February.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has vowed to protect ethnic Russians, prompting concern he may be planning to expand Russia's military control beyond Crimea.

Ukraine and the United States have gone as far as to suggest Russia may be orchestrating violence in the east in order to justify further military intervention.

According to Nato up to 40,000 Russian troops are currently massed along the Ukrainian border.

However Russia has repeatedly denied claims it is planning to invade.

In a statement on Wednesday the Russian Foreign Ministry said: "The United States and Ukraine have no reason to be worried.

"Russia has stated many times that it is not carrying out any unusual or unplanned activity on its territory near the border with Ukraine that would be of military significance."

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has confirmed she will attend a meeting next week with Ukraine's acting Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsya, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry.

It will be the first direct meeting between all four key players in the crisis.