In Eastern Ukrainian City, a Tug of War for More Autonomy
By ANDREW ROTH
DONETSK, Ukraine — Pro-Russian demonstrators demanding greater independence from the central government overcame riot police in this eastern Ukrainian city and poured into the regional administration building here on Wednesday evening, retaking it for a second time this week in a tug of war with the local police.
Led by Pavel Gubarev, the founder of a local self-defense militia who has declared himself “the people’s governor,” demonstrators pushed past rows of police officers with riot shields in less than a minute, stormed inside through a broken window in the lobby and raised the Russian flag over the administration building.
They demanded a referendum to give the region greater autonomy from the interim central government in Kiev that seized power from President Viktor F. Yanukovych last month. Some called for secession and a decision to become part of Russia.
The police on Wednesday morning evicted the protesters on the basis of a bomb threat, a claim that Mr. Gubarev called “a provocation” to force them out of the government building.
As 2,000 of Mr. Gubarev’s supporters gathered outside Wednesday evening, the police said they would resist any new attempts to capture the building, signaling a growing resistance to Mr. Gubarev’s group. On Monday, police officers calmly stepped aside after negotiations with Mr. Gubarev and allowed his supporters to occupy the building.
In an interview before the building’s recapture, Sergey V. Bogachev, the secretary of the City Council, which has called for a referendum to extend the city’s authority, condemned Mr. Gubarev’s actions as possibly criminal. However, the protests, Mr. Bogachev said, reflected public fear that the interim government would limit the rights of ethnic Russians, who are a majority of the population here.
In the darkened building, demonstrators sought to extend their control, fiddling with electrical boxes and trying to use a circular saw to cut their way into an access stairway. Organizers tried to control the protesters, telling them not to attack the police or journalists. The police did not appear to make any arrests and did not use nightsticks during the clash.
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