Armed men have seized two law enforcement buildings in Ukraine's restive east as protests by pro-Russian separatists continue in the region despite threats of intervention from authorities in Kyiv.
"Armed men in camouflage uniforms seized the police department in Slaviansk. The response will be very tough because there is a difference between protesters and terrorists," Interior Minister Arsen Avakov wrote on his Facebook page Saturday. Ukrainian special forces had been dispatched to the scene, he added.
Later in the day, police said the group seized a second building in the city.
"The same group of armed men who seized the district police station also seized the Slaviansk Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) building," the regional interior ministry said in a statement.
Slaviansk is in Ukraine's Donetsk region, about 150 kilometers (90 miles) from the Russian border. It was not immediately clear how many gunmen there were or whether they had made any demands.
Government buildings in the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk have been occupied by pro-Moscow protesters who have called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to send troops into eastern Ukraine.
On Wednesday, Ukrainian authorities set a48-hour deadline for the separatists
to end their occupation, but with that ultimatum having expired on Friday there has been no sign of action by police to force them out.
"I will say it again: Those who want dialogue ... will have dialogue and the search for solutions. Those who are up in arms, set fire to buildings, shoot at people, police, terrorize with bats and masks, these people will face an appropriate response," Avakov wrote in his Facebook post.
During an unannounced visit to Donetsk on Friday, acting Ukrainian premier Arseniy Yatsenyukpromised to grant more powers to the country's regions
and that Kyiv would not clamp down on the east's right to use the Russian language.
Kyiv has, however, fully rejected calls for an independence referendum that pro-Russia demonstrators have said should coincide with Ukraine's snap presidential polls scheduled for May 25.
A similar referendum last month in theBlack Sea peninsula of Crimea
led to the area's seizure by Russia. Ukraine and mostWestern powers
have condemned the referendum as illegal.
Ukraine has been in political and economic turmoil since February, when former President Viktor Yanukovich, a Kremlin ally, fled the country in the face of mass protests against his rule.
hc/mkg (AFP, Reuters)