SLAVIANSK, Ukraine, April 14 (RIA Novosti) – Pro-federalization protesters in southeastern Ukraine have ignored the central regime’s threat of a crackdown if they refuse to lay down arms and relinquish captured government buildings by 9 a.m. Monday, a RIA Novosti correspondent reported from the region.
“We aren’t acting on Kiev’s demand because we believe it to be a provocation,” an activist told RIA Novosti.
On Sunday, Ukrainian security troops launched what they called an “anti-terror operation” to end the federalist rallies in the southeastern town of Slaviansk, where protesters had set up barricades for fear of a government clamp-down.
Demonstrators ramped up their defenses on the roads leading to the town and around the captured police headquarters overnight, according to a RIA Novosti correspondent in Slaviansk. People continued to flock to the protest site Monday, despite it being a working day.
Demonstrations in support of the formation of a Ukrainian federation have been flaring up across the region since last month. On Saturday, the unrest spilled over to several other cities in the Donetsk region, including Mariupol, Yenakiyevo and Kramatorsk.
Ukraine’s acting President Oleksandr Turchinov on Sunday promised to pardon all demonstrators who would lay down their arms and withdraw from the occupied buildings by Monday morning. He also announced the start of a large-scale operation in Ukraine’s southeast involving armed forces.
Ukraine’s decision to dispatch army units against demonstrators has come under a barrage of criticism. Viktor Yanukovych, who insists he remains the country’s only legitimate president, addressed a press conference in Russia’s Rostov-on-Don where he said Ukraine was now in a de facto state of civil war.
The operation came in defiance of warnings by Moscow and international experts that a violent crackdown on the demonstrators – who are seeking increased local autonomy – risked escalating the crisis and plunging the country into civil war.