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3 Mar, 2014 12:39

Anti-Maidan protesters storm regional govt building in Donetsk

Anti-Maidan protesters storm regional govt building in Donetsk

Nearly a hundred pro-Russian protesters in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk have seized two floors of the regional government building, after the self-imposed Kiev government appointed a local oligarch as a Donetsk Region governor.

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In the building there are currently over 20 journalists and deputies of the local parliament, according to ITAR-TASS.

Earlier on Monday morning thousands of anti-Maidan activists came to the building of local administration. They were chanting "Taruta - out!" and carrying Russian flags and banners reading “Russians are our brothers.”

Pro-Russian activists demonstrate in front of riot policemen standing guard in front of the regional administration in Donetsk on March 3, 2014. (AFP Photo / Alexander Khudoteply)

On Sunday the self-proclaimed government in Kiev dismissed Donetsk Governor Andrey Shishatsky and appointed one of Ukraine’s richest men, Sergey Taruta, in his place. Taruta heads ISD, one of the biggest mining and smelting companies in the world, and also owns the Donetsk-based Metallurg Football Club.

The appointment in Donetsk is among 18 made on Sunday by the self-appointed regime Kiev, which is struggling to consolidate power after the coup that ousted President Yanukovich 10 days ago. The defiant regions seek greater autonomy from the central authorities. Having the right to elect their own governors as opposed to have them appointed in Kiev, is one of the demands regularly voiced at the protest rallies in eastern and southern Ukraine.

However, on Monday, the deputies of the regional parliament have secretly voted to appoint Shishatsky a parliament’s head which also outraged the protesters.

On Saturday, the Donetsk City Council refused to recognize Ukraine’s self-imposed government and called for a referendum on the region’s status. In addition, the members of the city council have voted to set up self-defense squads.

Also, the Russian language has been re-introduced as an official language along with Ukrainian in the area, where a plurality of its residents are ethnic Russians (48.15 percent) and Russian-speaking Ukrainians (46.65 percent). This decision came after the new power in Kiev abolished the minority languages law.

Riot policemen stand guard in front of the regional administration in Donetsk on March 3, 2014. (AFP Photo / Alexander Khudoteply)

On Monday, the regional parliament announced they were ready to hold the referendum.

Donetsk is the capital of the coal-rich Donbass region in eastern Ukraine. Besides Donetsk, a major economic, industrial and scientific center, Donbass includes the Lugansk and Dnepropetrovsk regions.

Feeling a threat from the new central government of questionable legitimacy, a number of regions stood up against it. Thousands of people across eastern and southern Ukraine are flooding the streets of major cities, urging local authorities to disobey Kiev’s orders. The local population is calling the government in Kiev illegitimate and demanding that their local governments refuse to take orders from it.

In Kharkov, the largest city in eastern Ukraine, pro-Russian protesters managed to break through the cordon of Maidan supporters and captured the government building on Monday.

At least 2,000 people are demonstrating with Russian flags next to the regional administration building in Odessa, the third-largest city in western Ukraine, the Unian news agency reported. Some of the activists have tried to enter the building to voice their demands, which include holding referendums on the status of the Russian language as the country’s second official language, on the federalization of Ukraine and on the country’s foreign policy.
The protesters are also demanding a new election for governor and for the regional parliament, as well as a ban on the radical Pravy Sektor (Right Sector) radical organization.

Protests were also held over the weekend in Lugansk, Melitopol, Yevpatoria, Kerch and Mariupol.

On Sunday, Rear Admiral Denis Berezovsky, appointed as the head of Ukraine's Navy forces just two days previously, swore allegiance not to Kiev, but to the people of Crimea.

Facts you need to know about Crimea and why it is in turmoil

Crimeans began protesting after the new self-imposed government in Kiev introduced a law abolishing the use of other languages for official documents in Ukraine. More than half the Crimean population are Russian and use only this language for their communication. The residents have announced they are going to hold a referendum on March 30 to determine the fate of the Ukrainian autonomous region.