Thursday, May 1, 2014

Ukraine crisis: Pro-Russian activists clash with police in Donetsk

By Arwa Damon and Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
May 1, 2014 -- Updated 1741 GMT (0141 HKT)
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Fear reigns along Ukrainian roads

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Donetsk, Ukraine (CNN) -- Pro-Russian activists and Ukrainian riot police clashed Thursday inside the compound of the prosecutor's office in the eastern city of Donetsk, as simmering tensions escalated into violence.
As a result of the clashes, 26 people sought medical help, four of them for gunshot wounds, the Donetsk regional administration's health department said. Two remain hospitalized.
At least one police officer was injured in the clashes, the Ukrainian Interior Ministry said, adding that shots were fired and small grenades and stones were used in the attack.
Police fired tear gas and stun grenades in an effort to disperse the activists, who were armed with clubs, batons and shields but did not appear to be carrying firearms.
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Some of the activists smashed windows and broke down doors as they sought to enter the building.
"We're going floor to floor looking for people ... for the people who were here beforehand," one of the militants said.
One woman earlier told a CNN team on the ground that she helped a wounded man who she said was shot by someone from inside the building.
Paramedics were called to help the wounded at the site Thursday afternoon.
Protest march in Donetsk, rally in Kiev
Earlier in the day, crowds marched through Donetsk, demanding greater autonomy for the restive eastern region.
At the head of the march, which was held to mark May Day, was a speaker who accused the authorities in Kiev of pushing pro-Russian supporters to a position where they are demanding a referendum on May 11 and a federal state.
Many in the region view the interim government in Kiev as a "junta" that seized power thanks to backing from ultranationalist groups, and they are angered by its actions.
Eastern Ukraine was a heartland of support for pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych, ousted in February after months of protests by people upset that he had turned away from Europe in favor of Moscow.
Pro-Russian protesters already control a number of key government buildings in Donetsk, after seizing them last month, and have declared it to be the "Donetsk People's Republic."
From the industrial city's Lenin Square, where the march started, masked men could be seen atop a building next to a flag signaling support for the pro-Russian camp. The yellow and blue Ukrainian flag, which had been flying until a short time before, was thrown off the side of the building, a symbol of the spreading unrest.
Pro-Russian protesters in the city of Luhansk, closer to the Russian border, said Wednesday that they had seized additional government buildings because they wanted to be sure of holding the planned referendum.
The crisis has sparked deep divisions in Ukraine. Many also want to see the country remain united, but unhappiness about government corruption and ineffectiveness runs deep.
In Ukraine's capital, Kiev, hundreds of people joined a rally Thursday for peace and unity, organized by student and trade union groups and left-of-center parties.
The protesters called for constitutional reform, decentralization of power and new parliamentary elections.
They also called for a national referendum to decide whether Ukraine should become a federal state; if the Russian language should become the official language in some regions; and whether Ukraine should integrate with the European Union.

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