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Odessa detainees freed after rebels storm police HQ


Participants of a rally welcome a man, centre, just released by the city police, yesterday. He was earlier arrested in recent street battles between pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian supporters in Odessa. — Reuters

Kiev: Thousands of pro-Russian protesters assaulted Odessa's police headquarters yesterday, days after deadly clashes and a fire there killed dozens of their comrades in what Kiev charged was a Russian plot to "destroy Ukraine".

The unrest in the southern port city threatened to open a  new front in the Ukrainian government's battle against pro-Moscow militants, with an expanded military operation under way in the east against gunmen holding more than a dozen towns.

Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said Russia was executing a plan "to destroy Ukraine and its statehood".

He was in Odessa to observe mourning for the 42 people who died there in clashes and the fire on Friday — most of them pro-Russian militants.

The unrest shaking the Black Sea city of one million people, he said, aimed "to repeat in Odessa what is happening in the east of the country".

In an effort to head off any retribution on the streets for Friday's bloodshed, Yatsenyuk sacked Odessa's police chiefs and ordered an inquiry.

The under-attack police in the headquarters also released some of the 150 pro-Russian militants arrested in Friday's clashes.

Although Moscow has admitted sending troops into Crimea ahead of annexing the strategic peninsula in March, it denies having a hand in Ukraine's unrest in the east and in Odessa.

Instead it blames the Kiev government and its Western backers for the carnage.

The three-day death toll from the eastern offensive meanwhile stood at 10 at least — half of them servicemen — as soldiers confronted gunmen in towns around the rebel bastion of Slavyansk.

Reporters near the eastern town of Kostyantynivka saw a pro-Russian checkpoint abandoned and smouldering while barricades were hastily erected in the centre.

Rebels defending Kostyantynivka said there had been fighting overnight near the town's television tower.

In nearby Kramatorsk, pro-Russians were holed up in the town hall while burned-out trolley buses and minivans blocked off streets in the city centre.

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