Rallies in eastern, southern regions since Crimea referendum

Thousands of pro-Russia demonstrators rallied in eastern Ukraine on Sunday in support of their demand for greater autonomy from Kiev. About 2,000 protesters marched in Donetsk, capital of Ukraine’s coal mining region, for a second day on Sunday.

The demonstrators, carrying Russian and “Russian Bloc” flags, demanded that the local legislature set a date for a referendum on upgrading the region’s status to a “Donetsk Republic” within Ukraine.

Gas price hike

The demonstrators also protested against planned steep hikes in gas and electricity prices. The prices are set to grow by about 50 per cent next month in line with the terms of a $14-billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Dozens of protesters stormed the regional government building and hung a Russian flag.

A similar rally took place in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city and a major industrial and academic centre. The demonstrators called for a referendum on federalisation of Ukraine and demanded the release of arrested pro-Russia activists.

A wave of protests swept Russian-speaking eastern and southern regions of Ukraine after Crimea voted in a referendum to split from Ukraine and reunite with Russia last month.

Ukraine’s First Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Yarema said about 320 “separatist acts” had occurred in south-eastern regions and some 242,000 people had participated in them since the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych at the end of February.

The new government in Kiev has blamed “Kremlin agents” for stirring trouble in Donetsk, Kharkiv, Lugansk and Odessa.

Russia has supported the demand for federalisation of Ukraine as the only way of preventing the country from splintering into pro-Russian and pro-Europe fragments.

Detention

Ukraine’s state security service said on Saturday it had detained 15 people suspected of planning to overthrow the authorities in Lugansk, a Russian-speaking eastern region, and had confiscated 300 automatic rifles, an anti-tank gun and large numbers of grenades, petrol bombs and knives.

“The group of attackers planned to carry out an armed seizure of power on April 10 in the Lugansk region through the intimidation of the peaceful population and the use of weapons and explosives,” the security service said in a statement.

Russia’s Federal Security Service, for its part, said earlier this week it had detained 25 Ukrainians suspected of preparing attacks in the southern and central part of the country.

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