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No sign of crackdown as Ukraine deadline passes

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By Marie-Louise Gumuchian and Tim Lister

Pro-Russian protesters forced police out of a building in an eastern Ukrainian city on Monday, even as a government deadline for demonstrators to leave occupied facilities passed with no immediate consequences in two other cities.

Video from a demonstration in the eastern Ukrainian city of Horlivka showed protesters confronting police and walking through the building, which had small fires burning and broken windows. A severely beaten man in a police uniform was taken to an ambulance as onlookers shouted at him.

The seizure is a new complication for the government in Kiev. Acting President Oleksandr Turchynov had given pro-Russian protesters in other eastern Ukrainian cities until 2 a.m. ET to disarm or face a "full-scale anti-terrorist operation" by Ukraine's armed forces.

But the deadline passed with no sign that it was heeded in the eastern cities of Donetsk and Slaviansk. There was no movement at the regional government building in Donetsk, which has been occupied for more than a week.

In Slaviansk, pro-Russian protesters milled around with makeshift shields outside the occupied police station.

Similar deadlines in the past came and went with no consequence.

Horlivka, with a population of about 300,000, became at least the 10th city or town in Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine -- mainly in the Donetsk region -- where activists took over security or government buildings in recent days.

Kiev blames Moscow

Turchynov had issued a promise of amnesty for the activists -- including protesters as well as armed militants who in recent days have stormed public buildings and planted Russian flags on them -- in eastern Ukraine but warned that anyone who continued to support the takeover of government buildings would be held responsible for their actions.

"We'll not allow any repetition of the Crimean scenario in the east of Ukraine," Turchynov said, referring to Russia's annexation of the Black Sea peninsula last month. "I have signed a decree that would allow those who did not shoot at our officers to lay down their arms and leave the occupied buildings by Monday morning without fear of being prosecuted."

After the deadline passed Monday, Turchynov said the majority of Ukrainians would back keeping Ukraine in one piece if a referendum is held along with presidential elections set for May 25.

"We do not mind having a referendum," Turchynov told members of parliament.

"Moreover, if there is (a) parliamentary decision to hold one together with the presidential elections, I am sure most people will express support of independent and unitary Ukraine."

Turchynov has said Russia was responsible for the bloodshed relating to the most recent protests. At least one Ukrainian soldier was killed in clashes between pro-Ukrainian crowds and pro-Russian protesters, a high-level source in Ukraine's Security Services told CNN.

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said any use of force against pro-Russian demonstrators in Ukraine is counter to creating a lasting solution to the crisis.

A stable Ukraine is in Moscow's best interest, Lavrov said, also denying reports that Russian forces are active in the east. He refused to speculate about what events or actions would spur a military intervention by Russia into Ukraine.

Lavrov said he would hold off judgment on Turchynov's proposed referendum until Moscow sees the outline of the questions to be asked. He added that pro-Russian activists in the east must be given an active role in shaping a new constitution.

Ukrainian officials have placed blame for unrest in the eastern section of their country squarely on Russia. The new Ukrainian government said the security operations were launched against terrorists who are attempting to "destroy our country."

Giving no further details, it also said it had "concrete evidence of Russian special service involvement" in the pro-Russian protests and storming of buildings and would present it at an international meeting on the Ukraine crisis on Thursday.

Ukrainian security forces launched an operation Sunday to clear pro-Russian separatists from the police headquarters in Slaviansk, officials said.

However, a CNN crew in the city saw no sign of a large presence of Ukrainian security forces -- with the exception of a single police car and a helicopter flying above -- nor any confrontation with the occupiers.

Gunmen dressed in camouflage had stormed and seized the police building a day earlier in Slaviansk, a town about 100 miles from the Russian border, and set up barricades around it.

Spiraling anger

Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said the attacks in Slaviansk were "professional" and "coordinated" -- similar to Russia's incursion into the Crimean Peninsula last month.

The United States is prepared to step up sanctions against Russia if the recent actions in Ukraine continue, she said. Speaking on ABC's "This Week," she said the latest events in Ukraine bore "the telltale signs of Moscow's involvement."

"I think we've seen that the sanctions can bite. And if actions like the kind that we've seen over the last few days continue, you're going to see a ramping up of those sanctions," she said.

The unrest is the latest show of spiraling anger in eastern Ukraine, which has a large Russian-speaking population. The region was the support base for pro-Moscow former President Viktor Yanukovych, who was ousted in February after months of protests in Kiev.

Distrust among the population in the region grew as political power in the national government shifted rapidly in a pro-Western direction. A short time later, pro-Russian elements occupied Crimea, which Russia quickly annexed. Since then, pro-Russian protesters have taken to the streets in eastern Ukraine rs and in some cases stormed and occupied buildings.

Kiev's fragile new government and the West accuse Russia of destabilizing the region as a pretext to potentially send in troops to protect the local Russian-speaking population.

NATO says Russian armed forces are massing on Ukraine's eastern border, while Moscow says they are merely carrying out military exercises.

In Kharkiv, Ukraine's second most populous city, police outside City Hall offered no resistance when protesters took over the building Sunday afternoon, according to a witness. It is not clear why the police stepped aside for protesters.

Russian and local Ukrainian media reported that pro-Russian demonstrators had seized the city hall in Mariupol, in the southeast, with no violence. Some showed pictures of Russian flags in the city. The reports could not immediately be independently confirmed.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is to meet this week with foreign ministers from the United States, Russia and Ukraine in Switzerland to discuss efforts to de-escalate the situation. EU foreign ministers will meet in Luxembourg on Monday to discuss the crisis.

On Sunday night, the U.N. Security Council held an urgent, previously unscheduled meeting to discuss the worsening crisis, where strong condemnations and accusations were traded.

CNN's Khushbu Shah, Steve Almasy and Nick Paton Walsh; journalist Victoria Butenko in Kiev; and journalist Lena Kashkarova in Donetsk contributed to this report

The-CNN-Wire
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