The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

May 4, 2014

Pro-Russian crowd storms police HQ in Ukraine port

ODESSA, Ukraine — Outrage over the deaths of pro-Russian activists in riots in Odessa triggered new violence Sunday in the Black Sea port, where a mob of protesters stormed police headquarters and freed dozens of their jailed allies.

The activists had been jailed for their involvement in clashes Friday that killed more than 40 people — some died from gunshot wounds, but most from a fire that broke out in a trade union building. It was the worst violence in the Ukrainian crisis since more than 100 people died in Kiev in February, most of them shot by snipers.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk visited Odessa on Sunday to try to defuse the mounting tensions and hinted strongly that he saw Moscow's hand in the unrest spreading through southeastern Ukraine.

Odessa is the major city between the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed in March, and the Moldovan separatist region of Trans-Dniester, where Russia has a military peacekeeping contingent.

Concerns are mounting that Moscow ultimately aims to take control of a huge swath of southeastern Ukraine from Trans-Dniester to Russian-dominated industrial areas in the east. Russian President Vladimir Putin, who calls the area historically Russian lands, has said he doesn't want to send in troops but will if necessary to protect his country's interests.

Alexei Pushkov, a prominent member of Russia's parliament who often expresses Kremlin views on foreign policy, suggested Ukraine was destined to be split apart.

"Through the justification of arson, military operations and the killing of Russians in Ukraine, the Kiev government is destroying the basis for the existence of a united country," Pushkov said on Twitter.

Yatsenyuk said Odessa police were being investigated for their failure to keep the peace during the riots and said he had ordered prosecutors to find "all instigators, all organizers and all those that under Russian leadership began a deadly attack on Ukraine and Odessa."

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