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Pro-Russian Rebels Shut Down Airport in East Ukraine

Armed separatists shut down Donetsk airport, one day after preventing locals from voting in presidential elections.
By Ari Yashar
First Publish: 5/26/2014, 11:32 AM

Pro-Russian separatists (file)
Pro-Russian separatists (file)
Reuters

Armed pro-Russian forces in eastern Ukraine forced Donetsk's Sergei Prokofiev airport to be closed on Monday, a day after they prevented most voters in the region from participating in national presidential elections.

"On the territory of the airport there are armed people, this is ample reason to halt our work on security grounds," Donetsk airport's press service head Dmitry Kosinov said Monday, reports BBC.

Officials have reported "shots and confrontation" after pro-Russian forces demanded that Ukrainian soldiers be removed from the airport, but there are no reports of injuries.

Pro-Russian separatists in the Donetsk region held a referendum two weeks ago, in which they claimed an 89% vote in favor of "self rule" autonomous of the Ukrainian government. Ukraine slammed the vote as a "criminal farce."

The clash on Monday comes as final figures for Ukraine's presidential election on Sunday are coming in. As noted, pro-Russian separatists effectively blocked the vote in the eastern Donetsk region. There, together with the Luhansk region, only about 20% of voting stations functioned. In the city of Donetsk where roughly a million residents live no polling stations were active.

Nevertheless, Ukrainian chocolate baron Petro Poroshenko claimed a resounding victory in the poll among those Ukrainians who were able to vote. He placed ending the pro-Russian uprising in the eastern regions of the country as his highest priority.

"My first decisive step will be aimed at ending the war, ending chaos, and bringing peace to a united and free Ukraine," said Poroshenko. "I am certain that our decisive actions will bring fairly quick results."

Russian President Vladimir Putin reassured on Saturday that he would respect the election and work with the elected government. landmark deal was reached last month between Russia, the US and the European Union (EU), calling for the separatists to stand down in exchange for amnesty.

The pro-Russian protesters have largely ignored the deal, however, claiming that the agreement does not apply to them. Putin has also promised to call back his forces amassed at the Ukrainian border, if the separatists agree to stand down.