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Thousands protest armed OSCE mission in eastern Ukraine

Russia has agreed to allowing armed OSCE monitors at specific sites in conflict-hit eastern Ukraine. But in the rebel stronghold of Donetsk, protesters vowed to protect themselves.

Thousands rallied in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on Friday to protest against a proposal to arm Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) monitors in the region.

"We have gathered here to say a firm no to an armed OSCE mission," Donetsk separatist leader Denis Pushilin told a crowd of over 5,000 protesters.

"(Ukrainian President Petro) Poroshenko wants to make the OSCE into a third side of this conflict," Pushilin told the rally.

In 2014, pro-democracy protests in the nation's capital, Kyiv, led to the ouster of Kremlin ally and former President Viktor Yanukovych, escalating simmering tensions between pro-Russia separatists and government forces in eastern Ukraine.

The OSCE launched the Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) in March 2014 at the request of Kyiv, effectively paving the way for the deployment of 580 unarmed staff in the region.

By April 2014, pro-Russia separatists launched an insurgency in eastern Ukraine, after Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula in an internationally condemned referendum.

The conflict has left nearly 9,400 people dead and half a million others displaced, according to UN figures.

Ukraine and its Western allies have accused Moscow of fueling the conflict by supplying separatists with arms and additional troops, although Russia denies any involvement.

Russia agrees

In the past year, the OSCE has expressed interest in sending armed international observers to the conflict-hit region, but Moscow blocked such initiatives.

However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Saturday said Russia provisionally agreed to allow an OSCE armed police mission, specifically along the conflict line and at weapons storage sites.

"We have proposed that there are reinforced, 24-hour teams of OSCE monitors in places of heavy weapons storage," Lavrov told state television on Saturday.

"We also said that we will be ready to agree if the OSCE decides to give its monitors on the line of contact and in places of heavy weapons storage the right to carry weapons," he added.

Watch video 02:17

Everyday life in a war-torn region | DW News

ls/kms (AFP, AP, dpa)

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