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3 Killed Durin Black Sea Base Attack   04/17 06:10

   Three pro-Russian protesters were killed and 13 injured during an attempted 
overnight raid on a Ukrainian National Guard base in the Black Sea port of 
Mariupol, Ukraine's authorities said.

   KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- Three pro-Russian protesters were killed and 13 
injured during an attempted overnight raid on a Ukrainian National Guard base 
in the Black Sea port of Mariupol, Ukraine's authorities said.

   The Interior Ministry said a mob of around 300 people armed with stun 
grenades and firebombs were involved in the bloodiest episode to date in the 
confrontation pitting Ukraine's new government in Kiev against an eastern 
insurgency tacitly supported by Moscow.

   Masked and battle-ready militia bearing sophisticated firearms have been 
deeply involved in seizing government offices in eastern Ukraine, igniting 
suspicions that much of the unrest is being stirred with Russia's backing.

   But Russia's President Vladimir Putin on Thursday dismissed as "nonsense" 
claims that Russian special forces were fomenting unrest in eastern Ukraine.

   "It's all nonsense, there are no special units, special forces or 
instructors there," Putin said.

   He did admit --- for the first time --- that the troops in unmarked uniforms 
who had captured Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula before its annexation last month 
by Moscow were Russian soldiers.

   Putin also expressed hope that four-way talks between Ukraine, the U.S., the 
European Union and Russia in Geneva on Thursday could map a way out of the 
deepening security crisis.

   Ukraine's interior ministry said shots fired by servicemen in the Mariupol 
base initially proved insufficient to deter the pro-Russian crowd from 
proceeding with their assault. It remains unclear exactly how the three 
protesters were killed.

   There were no casualties among Ukrainian servicemen, the ministry said. At 
least 63 people involved in the attack were detained, but local media Thursday 
morning cited police as saying 38 were later released.

   Speaking in parliament, acting President Oleksandr Turchynov said a 
pro-Russian gang carrying automatic weapons attempted to storm the base three 
times.

   APTN footage filmed outside the base on Wednesday night showed an 
unidentified man acting as an intermediary coming out to speak to masked men in 
the crowd armed with assault rifles. He told them the military had asked for 10 
minutes to think over an unspecified ultimatum.

   The masked men insisted they wanted no bloodshed. A short while later, 
however, a crowd of mainly masked young men armed with bats and sticks began 
throwing Molotov cocktails at the base's gate and at the trucks parked in front 
of it. Sounds of gunfire were heard in response.

   The skirmish came after the government announced an operation to retake 
control of the eastern city of Slovyansk, which has emerged as the focal point 
of the armed insurgency, and government buildings in several other cities in 
the east.

   With tens of thousands of Russian troops deployed just across the border 
from Ukraine, there are fears the Kremlin might use the instability in the 
predominantly Russian-speaking region as a pretext for seizing more territory 
beyond its annexation of Crimea last month.

   On Wednesday, hundreds of people in Kramatorsk, 15 kilometers (9 miles) 
south of Slovyansk, encircled a column of Ukrainian armored vehicles carrying 
several dozen troops. Soon after, masked gunmen in combat gear reached the site 
and Ukrainian soldiers surrendered the vehicles to them.

   At another location near Kramatorsk, troops at 15 Ukrainian armored vehicles 
were also surrounded by a crowd. To end the standoff, Ukrainian servicemen 
handed over the magazines from their assault rifles to pro-Russian militia. The 
Defense Ministry said the infantry vehicles had left the area Thursday and were 
returning to their base in Dnipropetrovsk, 225 kilometers (140 miles) away.

   There appeared little immediate sign of any planned military action by 
Ukraine forces. In an attempt to contain pro-Russian insurgents, a military 
checkpoint made of sandbags was built on the northern road to Slovyansk. An 
Associated Press reporter spotted 30 special forces officers, an armored 
personnel carrier and military vehicle with an anti-aircraft gun at the site.

   Turchynov told parliament on Thursday that the brigade that handed over its 
vehicles would be disbanded and its members put on trial.

   As the new government in Kiev struggles to contain the pro-Russian uprising, 
the Obama administration has said it is readying additional sanctions against 
Moscow and a boost in aid for the Ukrainian military in the coming days.


(KA)


 
 
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