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Separatists Seize Control of State TV in Eastern Ukraine: Report

DONETSK, Ukraine — Pro-Russian separatists on Sunday seized control of the offices of regional state television in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, a Reuters reporter outside the building said.

The reporter said four separatists in masks, with truncheons and shields, were standing at the entrance to the building controlling access, while more separatists in camouflage fatigues could be seen inside.

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About 15 police officers were standing a short distance away but were not trying to resist the separatists. A crowd of around 400 people surrounded the building and shouted "Russia!" and "Referendum!," a reference to a vote the separatists want to hold on seceding from Ukraine. The protesters later drifted away, but the separatist guards on the doors remained.

One of the masked men at the entrance, asked why the building had been seized, said: "They show lies, they try to influence the people and they broadcast misinformation."

The man, who refused to give his name, said the television station staff were still inside and would shortly be sent home.

Separatists who swear allegiance to the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic already control the regional governor's office and the city hall in Donetsk, the regional capital.

Image:
Masked pro-Russian activists control the entrance during their mass storming of a regional television center in Donetsk on Sunday. Efrem Lukatsky / AP

Meanwhile, eight European military observers held prisoner by pro-Russia insurgents in eastern Ukraine appeared in public Sunday and gave assurances that they weren't being mistreated, but there was no indication they would be released soon.

The insurgents in Slovyansk have taken a number of people hostage, including journalists and pro-Ukraine activists, as they strengthen their control in the east of the country in defiance of the interim government in Kiev and its Western supporters. On Sunday, they captured three Ukrainian security service officers, who were shown to Russian journalists bloodied and blindfolded with packing tape.

Col. Axel Schneider from Germany, who spoke for the group of military observers, stressed that they were on a diplomatic mission under the auspices of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe when detained Friday and weren't spying for NATO, as the insurgents claim.

The observers, who appeared nervous, were in the custody of armed men wearing camouflage fatigues and black balaclavas, who escorted them into the Slovyansk city hall for the news conference and led them away afterward. Schneider, however, said they were being treated as well as possible under the circumstances.

"The mayor of this city granted us his protection and he regarded us as his guests," Schneider told journalists in Slovyansk, which has become the center of the pro-Russia insurgency in eastern Ukraine. "I can tell you that the word of the mayor is a word of honor. We have not been touched."

Schneider said he no information about when they would be released and that this was a matter for diplomats of their countries. In addition to three German officers and a civilian interpreter, the group also includes officers from Poland, Sweden, Denmark and the Czech Republic.

— Reuters