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13 Apr, 2014 17:30

Kiev to launch ‘full-scale’ military op as massive protests grip eastern Ukraine

Over 10,000 pro-autonomy demonstrators rallied across eastern Ukraine as Kiev’s coup-appointed President threatened military force if protesters and paramilitaries reject a Monday morning deadline to vacate occupied govt buildings.

The deadline expired on Monday morning, however no use of force followed it immediately. Tension remains high in the Donetsk Region, as protesters prepare for a possible assault.

"The people demand that local authorities take orders from the [self-proclaimed - RT] Donetsk People's Republic, so nobody among the protesters is going to vacate the government buildings. We'll take our stand," Nikolay Solntsev, one of the protest leaders, told RIA Novosti.

Anti-Maidan activists still occupy govt buildings in Donetsk, the region’s capital. A city centre rally on Sunday saw a senior ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ figure call for pro-autonomy activists to deploy across the region to prepare for a referendum.

Over 100 volunteers were also recruited to man defence lines against Kiev’s “an anti-terrorist operation”, underway most notably in Slavyansk. Buses waited to ferry the eager volunteers.

Pro-Russian activists hold umbrellas under the rain and shout slogans during a rally near a barricade outside the regional government building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on April 13, 2014 (AFP Photo / Alexander Khudoteply)

Hundreds also gathered for rallies in support of federalization in Druzhovka, Debaltsevo and other Donbas towns.

According to Ukrainian media, the city authorities in Zhdanovsk and Kirovsk have expressed readiness to start talks on the recognition of the legitimacy of the Donetsk People’s Republic.

A rally in Mariupol in south-east of the country resulted in the seizure of city council by the pro-Russian protesters, ITAR-TASS news agency reports. Over 1,000 demonstrators, who chanted “Slavyansk, we’re with you!” and “Referendum,” have forced the police, guarding the building, to retreat.

Some 1,500-2,000 people are out in the square in front of the office Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) in Lugansk, which is held by the protestors for several days now. According to Rossiya 24 channel, the majority of the city’s police have switch to the side of the demonstrators, supporting their push for federalization.

Kharkov tensions

Meanwhile, dozens asked for medical assistance in Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkov, after the pro-federalization demonstrators clashed with the Maidan activists. The rallies of two antagonistic sides, which saw a joint turnout of around 3,000, were staged in the city simultaneously, with the police being unable to prevent provocations.

A pro-Russian activist wearing a Guy Fawkes mask and holding a bat guards a barricade outside the regional government building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on April 13, 2014 (AFP Photo / Alexander Khudoteply)

50 people required medical aid. Around 10 of them were taken to city hospitals. The doctors are speaking of minor or moderate injuries. Among the wounded there’s one policeman,” the local law enforcement authorities said.

Baseball bats, sticks, stones and stun grenades were used by both sides during the scuffle, Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper reports.

In Zaporozhye, the police had to use tear gas to break up clashes between the pro-federalization and Maidan activists, UNIAN news agency reports.

Kiev issues new ultimatum

In the capital, Ukraine’s Security Council convened for an urgent session following the events in Slavyansk. A decision was taken to launch “a large scale” operation, “with the involvement of the military,” Ukraine’s coup-imposed president, Aleksandr Turchinov, said in a televised address.

Later he said that the operation in the east will involve a non-regular regiment consisting of 350 reservists.

According to Turchinov, the anti-Maidan activists must lay down their arms and abandon the administrative offices they have occupied till 9 am Monday morning if they want to avoid prosecution.

Turchinov also said the new authorities in Kiev are ready to consider giving more powers to the region. Earlier parliament-appointed Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk pledged to push through a law allowing regional referendums in the country.

The order to use military against the pro-federalization protesters in eastern Ukraine by coup-imposed president, Aleksandr Turchinov, is “criminal” in its nature, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Ukraine's acting President Aleksander Turchinov (Reuters / Alex Kuzmin)

Interim Interior Minister, Arsen Avakov, has announced the creation of special Interior ministry units based on civilian components all across Ukraine in order to tackle separatist moods.

Kiev is ready to attract 12,000 people into the new force, which will receive the necessary arms, equipment and supervision, the minister wrote on his Facebook page.

The order to put together a “stabilizing” unit in Lugansk Region has already been signed, Avakov wrote, adding the eastern regions of Ukraine will be first to get a taste of the new force.

Earlier on Sunday, a gun flight reportedly broke out at a checkpoint, which was established by protesters on the outskirts of the city of Slavyansk.

Reports on those killed and wounded kept streaming in all day, but lacked consistency and could not be independently verified. According to interim Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, one of the troops from Kiev was killed and five others were injured in the skirmish.

Protesters in Slavyansk said one person was killed and two others injured on their side, adding that two of the Kiev troops were killed.

Unrest has gripped eastern – Russian speaking – parts of Ukraine after pro-EU protests in Kiev ousted president, Viktor Yanukovich, back in February.

Following the accession of the Republic of Crime to Russia, people in Donetsk, Kharkov, Lugansk and other cities are also calling for a referendum to decide their future as part of Ukraine.