Ukraine moving police special forces to control Odessa

Ukraine moving police special forces to control Odessa
# 05 May 2014 19:17 (UTC +04:00)

Baku-APA. Ukraine's Interior Minister drafted a new special forces unit into the southern port city of Odessa on Monday after what he called the "outrageous" failure of police to tackle pro-Russian separatists in a weekend of violence that killed dozens, APA reports quoting Reuters.

Fighting continued near the eastern town of Slaviansk where Ukrainian troops have been, somewhat tentatively, pressing a campaign to end pro-Russian rebellion. A Reuters correspondent said gunfire seemed to be coming closer to the city centre.

The violence in Odessa, a southwestern port with a broad ethnic mix from Russians and Ukrainians to Georgians and Tatars, was seen as a turning point in Kiev, encroaching for the first time into an area beyond the Russian-speaking east.

Authorities fear trouble in Kiev in the approach to Friday's celebrations of the Soviet victory in World War Two.

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said the new Odessa force, "Kiev-1", was based on "civil activists" who wanted to help the Black Sea city "in these difficult days". The leadership of the local police had been fired and may face criminal action.

Friday's fighting in Odessa was the deadliest since Moscow-oriented president Viktor Yanukovich fled to Russia in February and pro-Russian militants launched uprisings in towns across the industrial east. Over 40 people were killed and Ukraine, a country of 45 million, appeared to be lurching to civil war.

"The police in Odessa acted outrageously, possibly in a criminal fashion," Avakov wrote on his Facebook page. "The 'honor of the uniform' will offer no cover."

Ukrainian leaders have made it clear they see the police force across wide areas of the country as unreliable in the face of rebellion they say is backed by Moscow and led on the ground by Russian special forces. The units Avakov referred to emerged partly from the uprising against Yanukovich early this year.

That could fuel anger among the government's opponents, who accuse it of promoting "fascist" militant groups, such as Right Sector, that took part in the Kiev uprising over the winter.

ODESSA'S ECONOMIC IMPORTANCE

Loss of control of Odessa would be a huge economic and political blow for Kiev, Ukraine, a country the size of France that borders several NATO countries and harbors aspirations to join the alliance, a primary source of concern for the Kremlin.

Odessa, a city of a million people, with a grand history as the cosmopolitan southern gateway for the tsars' empire, has two ports, including an oil terminal, and is a key transport hub.

It would also heighten Western concern that Ukraine, already culturally divided between an industrial, Russian-speaking east and a more westward looking west, could disintegrate. As well as

humanitarian problems that could entail, neighboring NATO and EU countries would face a deep crisis in relations with Moscow, which supplies much of Western countries' energy via Ukraine.

Kiev's anger on Monday focused on the Odessa police decision to release 67 largely pro-Russian militants after supporters besieged and stormed a police station on Sunday. Russian is the first language of many of the city's residents.

The pro-Russian activists had been arrested on Friday after hours of street fighting. Other pro-Russian supporters withdrew to a building that later burned down with the loss of over 40 people

The exact circumstances of the blaze remain unclear but the deaths have become a cause celebre for anti-Kiev activists across the south and east.

The chant "Odessa is a Russian city!" was heard at pro-Russian demonstrations through the weekend.

Dissected by tree-lined boulevards and elegant, Mediterranean classical architecture including a neo-Baroque opera house in the Viennese style, Odessa is viewed by many Russians as just that. It was founded by Empress Catherine the Great and played a key role in Russian imperial history.

Soviet film director Sergei Eisenstein set scenes of a massacre of civilians during a 1905 uprising on the grand steps that sweep down to the port. The images from "The Battleship Potemkin" are among the most famous in cinema history.

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