- Associated Press - Monday, April 14, 2014

HORLIVKA, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine’s acting president urged the United Nations on Monday to send peacekeeping troops to eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian gunmen kept up their rampage of storming and occupying local government offices, police stations and a small airport.

The request came from a government that has proved powerless to rein in separatists in its eastern and southern regions, where insurgents have seized or barricaded government buildings in at least nine cities, demanding more autonomy from the new government in Kiev and closer ties with Russia.

The Kiev government and Western officials accuse Russia of instigating the unrest and of deploying armed Russian agents in civilian clothing to carry them out.

In a telephone call with Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, acting President Oleksandr Turchynov suggested that an “anti-terrorist operation” be conducted jointly by Ukrainian security forces and U.N. peacekeepers, according to the presidential website.

Peacekeepers, however, would have to be authorized by the U.N. Security Council, where Russia holds a veto.

Turchynov’s deadline for insurgents to give up their weapons and vacate their homemade barricades passed Monday without any visible action — instead, the violence continued. A pro-Russian mob stormed a Ukrainian police station in Horlivka, another city near the Russian border. Later in the day, armed men in masks also seized control of a small airport outside the city of Slovyansk, also in the Donetsk region bordering Russia.

“The Russian Federation is sending special units to the east of our country, which seize administrative buildings with the use of weapons and are putting the lives of hundreds of thousands of our citizens in danger,” Turchynov said, according to the presidential web-site.

The events echoed those in Crimea, which was annexed by Russia last month after key regional facilities were seized by Russian troops aided by local militiamen.

Dmitry Peskov, the spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying Monday that Putin has received “numerous appeals” from eastern Ukraine “asking him to help and interfere in one way or another.” Peskov added that Putin was “watching the developments in those regions with great concern” but wouldn’t elaborate.

The developments came as the European Union’s foreign ministers met in Luxembourg to consider further sanctions against Russia and three days ahead of a Geneva conference seeking ways to defuse tensions. Diplomats from the United States, Russia, the EU, Ukraine and Switzerland were expected at those one-day talks Thursday.

Russia has warned the Kiev government not to use force against the armed protesters in the east, saying it could thwart the Geneva conference.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov again denied Monday that Russian agents were operating in eastern Ukraine, saying it would contradict Moscow’s interests. He challenged Ukraine “not to be shy” about backing its claims of capturing Russian security officers with facts.

In Horlivka, however, one of the men directing the raid on the police headquarters introduced himself as a lieutenant colonel in the Russian army to a line of policemen who had switched sides. He did not give his full name. In a video posted online, the man, dressed in an unmarked green camouflage uniform, urged the policemen to obey their new chief and to attach St. George’s ribbons to their uniforms, which have become a symbol of the pro-Russian protesters.

The identity of the man wasn’t clear and couldn’t be independently confirmed.

Oleksandr Sapunov, who took part in storming the police building in Horlivka, said the insurgents were fighting against appointees of the new Kiev government, including the local police chief, and wanted to appoint their own leadership.

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