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'Peaceful protest' plea in Ukraine

Pro-Russian insurgents fighting Ukrainian government forces were facing public dismay and a new challenge from the country's richest man today, while Russia's Defence Ministry said its units have started dismantling their camps in the border regions.

A day after Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a pull-out order in an apparent bid to ease tensions with the West over Ukraine, the ministry said that its forces in the Bryansk, Belgorod and Rostov regions are preparing for a journey to their home bases.

Nato, which estimates that Russia has 40,000 troops along the border with Ukraine, said it is watching the situation closely but could not yet confirm a change. Spokeswoman Oana Lungescu challenged the Russians "to prove that they are doing what they are saying".

The ministry said it would take time for troops to dismantle their camps and load equipment on trucks for a march to railway stations. It did not say how many troops are being pulled out from the three regions or how long it would take.

Mr Putin's order made it clear that he has no immediate intention of sending the Russian army into eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian insurgents have seized government buildings and clashed with Ukrainian government forces in weeks of fighting that has left dozens dead.

Today, the rebels continued to exchange fire with government forces on the outskirts of the eastern city of Slovyansk, which has been the epicentre of clashes.

Meanwhile, Ukraine's richest man, metals tycoon Rinat Akhmetov, rode the wave of public dismay with the hostilities to toughen his stance against the rebellion, saying it has devastated the eastern regions that form the nation's industrial heartland.

In a statement, Mr Akhmetov issued a strong call for an end to the mutiny in the east, which he described as a "fight against the citizens of our region".

He added: "Is looting in cities and taking peaceful citizens hostage a fight for the happiness of our region? No, it is not."

He called on all workers in the region to hold a "peaceful warning protest" at the companies where they work by sounding sirens "in support of peace and against bloodshed".

Ukraine's interior minister Arsen Avakov quickly hailed Mr Akhmetov's move, saying on Facebook that "the people's power and energy will sweep the terrorist scum away better than any counter-terrorist operation".


From Belfast Telegraph