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60 people taken hostage by 'radical' group in Ukraine

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) -- Ukraine's government struggled to stay in control of the country's eastern regions as tensions flared Tuesday in three cities. While the government managed to recapture its regional headquarters and detain dozens of pro-Russian protesters in one city, it said "radicals" were keeping 60 people hostage and threatening them in another city.

Unknown "separatists" brandishing arms and explosives were threatening the hostages inside a security service branch in the city of Luhansk, the Ukrainian Security Service said in a statement Tuesday.

It was not clear who the hostages were or if they were security service employees. The building was seized Sunday by armed pro-Russian protesters.

Earlier Tuesday, Ukrainian authorities battled with pro-Russian protesters but regained control over a government building in Kharkiv, the country's second-largest city, evicting the protesters and detaining dozens.

In Donetsk, a city 250 kilometers (155 miles) further south, protesters dug in for their third day at the 11-story regional administration headquarters and began to declare their own parallel government.

Serhiy Taruta, the governor of Donetsk, scoffed at the shifting events in his city.

"I call this a theater of the absurd," he said. "It is just artists performing, but the main thing is that there is an ever-dwindling audience."

All three cities are in Ukraine's east, where hostility is strong toward the government that took power in February after the ouster of Kremlin-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych. Even though Ukraine's interim authorities have achieved some success in quelling unrest that swept across eastern provinces Sunday, festering discontent threatens to undermine plans to hold a presidential election on May 25.

Addressing parliament in Kiev, acting President Oleksandr Turchynov said security forces retook control of the Kharkiv administration building early Tuesday and several police were injured in the clashes with separatists.

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov described the measure on his Facebook page as an "anti-terrorist operation."

In a session briefly interrupted by a brawl, parliament also voted to toughen punishment for undermining Ukraine's national security, imposing jail terms of up to 5 years for separatism.

In Donetsk, there was little sign Tuesday afternoon that government forces had any immediate plan to clear the regional administration building.The city has seen weekly rallies marching on local government offices, but on Sunday groups of masked men carrying batons burst through police lines to take over the building.

By Tuesday, lines of car tires wrapped in razor wire had been erected as deterrent against a possible attempt by police to storm the premises. The tactic appears to have been copied from the anti-government protests in the capital, Kiev, which led to Yanukovych's overthrow. Just like in Kiev, food stations have been created inside the Donetsk administration building, supplied by volunteers and local residents.

No clear leader or agenda has emerged from the obscure group of pro-Donetsk autonomy activists behind the standoff.

A declaration adopted Monday claimed sovereignty for what activists called the "Donetsk Republic" and called for a referendum on the issue to be held no later than May 11. While none of the self-appointed protest leaders has said they necessarily want the region to join Russia, they have also declined to rule out the option.

Despite claims by the autonomy groups to represent all of Donetsk, a region of more than 4 million people, rallies outside the regional administration building have since the weekend drawn crowds only in the low thousands.

The seizures of the buildings and calls for referenda were an echo of the events that led to Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula last month. After Yanukovych fled to Russia, Russian troops took control over Crimea and the region voted to join Russia in a hastily called referendum.

The West has not recognized the vote or the annexation and has retaliated with sanctions against Russia.

Even as the United States warned Russia of more sanctions if Moscow takes further efforts to destabilize Ukraine, the White House announced Tuesday a high-level meeting among U.S., EU, Ukrainian and Russian diplomats in the coming days to try to solve the crisis.

In Moscow, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Tuesday that the date and format of the four-way talks haven't yet been agreed. He suggested that Ukraine's presidential candidates could be invited to join the negotiations and emphasized the need for the regions to take part in drafting Ukraine's constitutional reform.

The Kremlin has pushed for a constitutional reform in Ukraine that would turn it into a federation with broad powers for its regions and ensure the country's neutrality - demands that reflected Russia's desire to maintain influence over its neighbor and prevent it from joining NATO.


Maria Danilova in Kiev contributed to this report.

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quezon7 April 08 2014 at 1:48 PM

Looks like more of the same. Any effort to destabilize the so called post-coup Republic is precisely what folks that over threw Kiev would want to see elsewhere, the more fires the more attention.
Putin and his oligarchs are not interested in creating further annexations because it`s too painful. But if these anonymous people keep the pressure on Russia will be forced to respond. That`s probably the game plan: keep sparking as much unrest as possible to draw Russia into the 'bad cop' role

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3 replies
rocher54 April 08 2014 at 6:02 PM

Lol, the US is running out of people to send a strong warning to. They just send a strong warning threatening North Korea, another strong warning / threat to China from Chuckie, another strong threat to Russia from Johnny "Walker" , another one to Iran, another one to Syria, another one to...BLAH!, BLAH!, BLAH!...They're not scared , period!...So many enemies and not enough fingers,

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punnster April 08 2014 at 5:37 PM

No problem, John Kerry will just threaten to deny them the ability to take their vacations in America and they will tuck their tails between their legs and run back to Moscow.

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esteban April 08 2014 at 2:59 PM

Ukraine will be better off as an independent country far away from Russia..say yes to freedom

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3 replies
jimormarlene April 08 2014 at 3:13 PM

Is it safe to travel to this country now?

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fishhead80 April 08 2014 at 6:07 PM

Send in Kerry & Obama, they're useless anyway.

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wodelson April 08 2014 at 3:17 PM

Shouldn't it be up to the people who live there? Why does Kerry or Obama think they can tell the people there what government they MUST have? Again, we backed a group like this in Egypt and look how good that turned out.

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1 reply
rgkarasiewicz wodelson April 08 2014 at 3:23 PM

Kerry and Obama will only accept a Western puppet regime in Ukraine regardless of what the Ukranians decide.

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forestbar April 08 2014 at 3:26 PM

Now this makes sense! Obama are you tuned in??????

Russian FM calls on Kiev, Washington to recognize interests of all Ukraine regions
Moscow is urging to provide for Ukraine’s eastern and southern regions to take part in the upcoming talks with Kiev, Russia, the US, and EU on the current crisis, says FM Sergey Lavrov

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Ghetto Cat April 08 2014 at 11:13 PM

We are taught that whatever we think or do is wrong, resulting in a non thinking, non acting population that just does nothing and is destroyed by mothernature.

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rarabe55 April 08 2014 at 2:22 PM

At this point I think the question isn't what's going to happen to the Ukraine as I believe they are a lost cause as there is no one strong enough that's willing to stand up to them. The question is which country will Russia go after next?

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