Ukraine Continues Assault After Fighting Claims 50

Ukraine is vowing to broaden its operation against pro-Russian rebels as the crisis-hit country observes a second day of mourning after violence that has left more than 50 people dead.

National Security and Defence Council chief Andriy Parubiy said on Sunday the armed forces would expand the “active stage of the operation in other towns where extremists and terrorists are carrying out illegal activities”.

Reporters near the eastern town of Kostyantynivka, where rebels seized the town hall on April 28, saw a pro-Russian checkpoint abandoned and smouldering while barricades were being hastily erected in the centre.

Rebels defending the building behind makeshift barriers said there had been fighting overnight near the local television tower.

In nearby Kramatorsk, pro-Russians were holed up in the town hall and burnt-out trolley buses and mini-vans blocked off central streets.

On Saturday, fierce gunbattles erupted around the flashpoint town of Slavyansk as the army stormed rebel-held checkpoints, tightening the noose around what has become the epicentre of pro-Russian fervour.

Central Slayvansk was relatively calm early on Sunday but citizens reported increasing difficulty obtaining basic foodstuffs in the besieged town of 160,000 people.

Meanwhile, seven European inspectors from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe arrived home late Saturday after an eight-day ordeal in rebel captivity, a small chink of light in the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War.

Interim president Oleksandr Turchynov has declared two days of mourning after brutal violence in Odessa claimed 42 lives and at least 10 died in military operations around Slavyansk, the worst bloodshed in months.

The scenic Black Sea port of Odessa was bracing for fresh unrest as supporters of the Western-backed government in Kiev planned a new march amid fears it could be disrupted by pro-Russian militants.

The city was still reeling from horrific violence on Friday when deadly clashes between the two sides culminated in a building fire that left 38 dead, most overcome by fumes, others from jumping from windows in a desperate bid for survival.

Four others died from gunshot wounds as the violence that has gripped the eastern part of Ukraine spread to the south, which had until then had been spared.

Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk visited the town on Sunday and told the BBC he would launch a “full, comprehensive and independent investigation” into the bloodshed, blaming “inefficient” local law enforcement officers.

Sporadic fighting was also reported overnight in the eastern city of Lugansk and the port city of Mariupol.

Meanwhile in Crimea, annexed by Russia in March, there were clashes between police and 2000 pro-Kiev Tatars demonstrating against Russia’s refusal to allow their leader Mustafa Dzhemilev into the peninsula.
Ukraine’s violence sparked a new round of accusations and counteraccusations between the United States and
Moscow as relations between the Cold War foes continued to suffer.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called US counterpart John Kerry to demand Washington use its influence over Kiev to stop Ukraine’s “war against its own people”.

Mr Lavrov warned that the military operations were pushing the former Soviet Republic towards a “fratricidal conflict”. [AAP]