Pro-Russian activists occupying government buildings are demanding a referendum

Security forces will “shoot to kill” if pro-Russian protesters in eastern Ukraine refuse to clear the government buildings they occupied four days ago, a senior Ukrainian official said on Thursday.

Hundreds of protesters holed up in the Security Service office in Lugansk and the local government headquarters in Donetsk are demanding a referendum on self-government for Ukraine’s Russian-speaking south-eastern regions.

The deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential administration, Andrei Senchenko, told reporters in Kiev that they have been given a Thursday ultimatum.

Kiev on Wednesday issued an ultimatum to the protesters to disarm and leave the seized offices within 48 hours or face the storming by the military.

Acting President Oleksandr Turchynov on Thursday said he had spoken to protesters in Lugansk promising not to prosecute them if they give up their arms and free seized buildings.

However, he rejected the proposal by Communist lawmakers to adopt a law guaranteeing amnesty to the pro-Russian protesters similar to the amnesty granted to pro-Western protesters in Kiev in February.

Mr. Turchynov also promised to consider expanding the rights of regional legislatures and to conduct an international probe into the killings of dozens of civilians and police during the protests.

Agenda for talks

Efforts to set up four-party Foreign Minister talks between Russia, the United States, the European Union (EU) and Ukraine to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine are gathering momentum.

Late on Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke twice with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to discuss the agenda for such talks.

Russia insists the talks should focus on a constitutional reform to make Ukraine a federative state.

Meanwhile, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland accused Russian intelligence agencies of planning and executing the takeovers of government buildings in eastern Ukraine.

Russia had levelled exactly the same charges against the U.S. over its role in the overthrow of Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych in February.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned European leaders that Ukraine’s delays in paying for Russian gas have created a “critical situation” that could affect deliveries of gas to Europe.

In a letter to European leaders, Mr. Putin said that if Ukraine does not settle its energy bill, Gazprom will be forced to switch to advance payment, and if those payments are not made, it “will completely or partially cease gas deliveries.”

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