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                                        Volume. 11956
tandoff continues in Ukraine as eastern cities demand independence
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c_330_235_16777215_0___images_stories_edim_01_ukra2.jpgStandoff continued between protesters and police in eastern cities of Ukraine on Tuesday as the government in Kiev accuses Russia of orchestrating the events in its Russian-speaking regions. 
 
According to Reuters, police detained 70 pro-Moscow protesters occupying a regional administration building in eastern Ukraine overnight, but others held out in a standoff in two further cities in what Kiev says is a Russian-led plan to dismember the country.
 
In the mining center of Donetsk, a home base of the ousted President Viktor Yanukovych's, a group of pro-Russian deputies inside the main regional authority building on Monday declared a separatist republic.
 
Ukraine says the seizure of public buildings in its mainly Russian-speaking industrial heartland on Sunday night is a replay of events in Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula Moscow annexed last month.
 
Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said protesters in the town of Kharkiv had been cleared in a lightning, 18 minute "anti-terrorist" operation, pinning responsibility for the building's occupation on Russian leader Vladimir Putin and Ukraine's ousted Moscow-backed president Viktor Yanukovych.
 
"All this (in Kharkiv) was inspired and financed by the Putin-Yanukovych group," said Avakov.
 
NATO warned Moscow on Tuesday of "grave consequences" to its relationship with the West if it intervened further in Ukraine.
 
But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov dismissed U.S. accusations that Moscow was destabilizing Ukraine, saying the situation could improve only if the interests of Russian speakers were taken into account.
 
The pro-Russian protesters have been demanding that referendums be held on whether to join Russia like the vote, dismissed by the Kiev and West as illegal, that endorsed Crimea's return to rule by Moscow.
 
Police say that in a third protest in the city of Luhansk pro- Russia activists inside the main state security building have seized weapons.
 
There was no clear sign that further police operations were imminent in these two cities. "We hope the buildings occupied in Donetsk and Luhansk will soon be freed," acting president Oleksander Turchinov said.
 
In Donetsk, steel-and-energy tycoon Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine's richest man, is mediating with the protesters, but he may have complicated the plans of the authorities by publicly urging authorities not to use force as a solution.
 
But authorities may anyway have decided not to tempt action by Moscow and hold back and wait for the protests to fizzle out.
 
Ukraine has been in turmoil since late last year when Yanukovych rejected closer relations with the European Union and tilted the former Soviet republic back towards Moscow. That provoked protests in which more than 100 people were killed by police and which drove Yanukovych from office in February, leading to Kiev's loss of control in Crimea.
 

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