Over 40 dead in Odessa clashes

Turchynov blames it on ‘foreign provocation’

Updated - May 23, 2016 04:54 pm IST

Published - May 03, 2014 10:50 pm IST - MOSCOW:

More than 40 people have died in deadly clashes between supporters and opponents of the federalisation of Ukraine in Odessa as violence continued to spread across the country’s Russian-speaking southeast.

Clashes in the Ukrainian port city of Odessa erupted on Friday afternoon when around 1,500 supporters of the Kiev authorities armed with guns, chains and bats confronted about 500 anti-government protesters who had set up a tent camp in the city demanding greater autonomy from Kiev.

Pro-government radicals ransacked and burnt down the camp, forcing their opponents to seek cover in a nearby trade union building, which was then set on fire. Dozens of people trapped inside died from suffocation.

Video posted on the web showed a man wearing a bullet-proof vest repeatedly firing at people in the blazing building.

Police said 46 people died in the clashes and the fire and more than 80 were hospitalised.

The sudden flare-up of violence in Odessa, the third largest city in Ukraine, situated hundreds of kilometres away from the flashpoint of armed rebellion in Donetsk region, shows just how far Ukraine has slid towards a civil war.

Kiev said the clashes in Odessa had been financed by allies of ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich and orchestrated by militants from nearby Moldova’s breakaway region of Transdniestria and from Russia.

Ukrainian Acting President Oleksandr Turchynov blamed “foreign provocation” for the tragedy in Odessa as he declared a two-day mourning in Ukraine. Moscow has angrily denied the charges and pointed the finger at Kiev.

Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, said the Ukrainian authorities “allowed extremists and radicals to burn unarmed people alive.”

“Their arms are up to the elbows in blood,” Mr. Peskov told Russian news agencies.

Mr. Peskov did not say how Russia could react to the escalating conflict in Ukraine, but pointed out that the Kremlin was getting thousands of calls for help from south-eastern Ukraine and Mr. Putin “is closely analysing the all developments in Ukraine to decide further steps.”

The Ukrainian forces on Saturday took control of Kramatorsk after what the head of Ukraine’s anti-terrorist centre described as “heavy fighting” against anti-government self-defence activists. He did not give any casualty figures, while militants, who are still holding out inside a government building in the centre of Kramatorsk, said 10 people were killed when the military opened fire on civilians trying to stop armoured vehicles from entering the town.

Observers freed

Self-defence activists in Sloviansk on Saturday released a team of international military observers they seized a week ago, handing them over to Russian envoy Vladimir Lukin.

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