Ukraine’s interim PM Arseniy Yatsenyuk has blamed the country’s security services for failing to stop violence in the southern city of Odessa that left more than 40 people dead.
Most of the victims were pro-Russian separatists who died in a fire after barricading themselves in a building.
Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s comments came as Ukrainian troops surrounded the pro-Russian stronghold of Sloviansk in the east.
He said of the Odessa violence: “I personally blame the security service and law enforcement office for doing nothing to stop this crackdown.”
PM Arseniy Yatsenyuk has blamed Ukraine’s security services for failing to stop Odessa violence that left more than 40 people dead (photo CNBC)
Arseniy Yatsenyuk said: “These security forces are inefficient and they violated the law.”
He said the police chief of the Odessa region had been removed and that the prosecutor’s office had started an investigation.
“The prosecutor’s office is to investigate everyone – starting with the chief of police, his deputies and every single police officer.”
However, Arsniy Yatsenyuk also blamed pro-Russian groups for “provoking the unrest”.
He accused Russia and pro-Russian protesters of orchestrating “real war… to eliminate Ukraine and eliminate Ukrainian independence”.
Ukrainian troops have encircled Sloviansk as the government seeks to wrest control from the separatists.
Several people were reported killed in clashes around Sloviansk on Saturday. The defense ministry said one checkpoint was removed overnight.
Gunfire was also reported overnight in Kostyantynivka and Mariupol as Ukrainian forces tried to reclaim government offices.
There was heavy fighting in the town of Kramatorsk on Saturday, with the interior ministry saying the army had retaken a television tower.
Kiev officials said at least two people were killed in the town, although Russian state television reported 10 deaths.
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Pro-Russian separatists have stormed the regional administration’s headquarters in the eastern Ukrainian city of Luhansk.
A few dozen men, some reportedly armed with metal bars, smashed windows and doors to break into the building.
Activists shouting “Referendum Russia” later flew a Russian flag over it.
Earlier, Russia criticized sanctions imposed by the US and EU on individuals and companies over their alleged actions aimed at destabilizing Ukraine.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the US had “essentially lowered an <<Iron Curtain>>” by targeting Russia’s high-tech sector.
The EU, he added, had proved that it was “under Washington’s thumb”.
Pro-Russian separatists have stormed the regional administration’s headquarters in the eastern Ukrainian city of Luhansk (photo AFP)
Russia’s Deputy PM Dmitry Rogozin meanwhile warned that if the sanctions affected its rocket-building sector, US astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) might be “exposed”.
Sergei Ryabkov also stressed that Russia had no intention of invading eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russia activists have seized government buildings in more than a dozen towns and cities.
Until now, only the local office of the State Security Service (SBU) in Luhansk, a city of 465,000 people less than 20 miles from the Russian border, had been targeted.
But on Tuesday afternoon, hundreds of people gathered outside the headquarters of the regional government to demand a referendum on granting greater autonomy to the east.
A group of men armed with sticks and metal bars broke into the building, whose entrances were not protected by police. They then pulled down the Ukrainian flag flying from the roof and replaced it with a Russian one, and opened the main entrance to the crowd.
Inside the building’s courtyard, they found security personnel in riot gear massed in a defensive position. There was a stand-off, but no violence.
“The regional leadership does not control its police force,” Stanislav Rechynsky, an aide to the interior minister in Kiev, told Reuters news agency.
“The local police did nothing.”
Stanislav Rechynsky added that the government had information to suggest that the separatists would now seize the local television centre.
Eastern Ukraine, which has a large Russian-speaking population, was a stronghold for former President Viktor Yanukovych before he was overthrown by protesters in February.
The interim government has rejected the pro-Russian activists’ demands for greater autonomy, fearing they could lead to the break-up of the country or more regions being annexed by Russia, as happened with Crimea last month.
Pro-Russian activists continue to detain some 40 people, including seven military observers linked to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) seized last week.
The self-styled “mayor” of the town of Sloviansk, where the observers are being held, has said he will discuss their release only if the EU drops sanctions against separatist leaders.
On Tuesday, the EU published a fresh list of 15 individuals facing travel banks and asset freezes.
It included General Valery Gerasimov, chief of the Russian General Staff, and Lt. Gen. Igor Sergun, identified as the head of the Russian military intelligence agency, the GRU.
Russian Deputy PM Dmitry Kozak and pro-Russian separatist leaders in Crimea and in Luhansk and Donetsk were also named.
On Monday, the US announced sanctions against seven individuals and 17 companies it said were linked to President Vladimir Putin’s “inner circle”.
The US and EU first imposed visa bans and asset freezes on a number of senior Russian officials and companies after Crimea was annexed.
US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said the sanctions had so far caused “a quite substantial deterioration in Russia’s already weak economy”.
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Pro-Russian militants in Donetsk say they will not leave the government building there, defying the Kiev authorities and threatening a new international deal on Ukraine.
The separatists’ spokesman said that the Kiev government was “illegal”, so they would not go until the Kiev government stepped down.
Russia, Ukraine, the EU and US earlier agreed that illegal military groups in Ukraine must leave official buildings.
They reached the deal in Geneva.
Pro-Russian militants in Donetsk say they will not leave the government building there, defying the Kiev authorities and threatening a new international deal on Ukraine
Alexander Gnezdilov, spokesman for the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, said his group would evacuate the government building in the eastern city only when the “illegal” Kiev government vacated parliament and the presidential administration.
A tense standoff continues in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists – many of them armed – are occupying official buildings in at least nine cities and towns.
Another protest leader in Donetsk said the separatists would not leave unless pro-European demonstrators in Kiev’s Maidan Square packed up their camp first.
President Barack Obama cautiously welcomed the Geneva deal, but warned that the US and its allies were ready to impose new sanctions on Russia if the situation failed to improve.
On Friday there were reports of some shooting in Serhiyivka, in Donetsk region.
Ukrainian paratroopers opened fire to remove a protesters’ roadblock in Serhiyivka, Interfax-Ukraine reported, quoting local sources. The details have not been confirmed.
Russia denies fomenting separatism in eastern and southern Ukraine.
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