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Pro-Russian armed men level automatic rifles near the local police headquarters in Luhansk, eastern Ukraine, on April 29, 2014. (VASILY FEDOSENKO/REUTERS)
Pro-Russian armed men level automatic rifles near the local police headquarters in Luhansk, eastern Ukraine, on April 29, 2014. (VASILY FEDOSENKO/REUTERS)

Separatists in east Ukraine storm police station, government HQ Add to ...

Hundreds of pro-Russian separatists stormed government buildings across one of Ukraine’s provincial capitals on Tuesday and opened fire on police holed up in a regional headquarters, a major escalation of the rebellion in defiance of new Western sanctions.

Demonstrators smashed their way into the provincial government headquarters in Luhansk, Ukraine’s easternmost province, which abuts the Russian border, and raised separatist flags over the building, while police did nothing to interfere. As night fell, about 20 rebel gunmen opened fire with automatic weapons and threw stun grenades at the headquarters of the region’s police, trying to force those inside to surrender their weapons, a Reuters photographer at the scene said.

Reuters Apr. 29 2014, 1:57 PM EDT

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The rebels also seized Luhansk's prosecutor’s office and the television centre.

Ukraine’s acting president Oleksander Turchynov demanded the dismissal on Tuesday of police chiefs in Luhansk and Donetsk, saying “the overwhelming majority of law enforcement bodies in the east are incapable of fulfilling their duty to defend our citizens.”

NATO TERRITORY INVIOLABLE, KERRY SAYS

The United States warned Russia on Tuesday that Washington and its allies would stand united in their defence of Ukraine and that NATO territory was inviolable and the alliance would defend every single piece of it.

“Today Russia seeks to change the security landscape of Eastern and Central Europe,” Kerry said in a speech in Washington referring to Russia’s occupation of Crimea and the threat it posed to eastern Ukraine.

“Whatever path Russia chooses, the United States and our allies will stand together in our defence of Ukraine,” he said.

“And most important, together we have to make it absolutely clear to the Kremlin that NATO territory is inviolable. We will defend every single piece of it,” he added.

SLAVYANSK MAYOR: SANCTIONS 'NOT CONDUCIVE TO DIALOGUE'

The self-declared mayor of a separatist-held town in eastern Ukraine said on Tuesday he would discuss the release of detained military observers with the West only if the European Union dropped sanctions against rebel leaders.

Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, the de facto mayor of Slavyansk, told Interfax news agency the imposition of visa bans and asset freezes against Denis Pushilin, leader of the self-styled People’s Republic of Donetsk, and Andrei Purgin, another leader in the eastern region, “was not conducive to dialogue.”

The six observers were in Ukraine under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, a democracy watchdog. They were detained last week after separatists said they had found a Ukrainian spy with them. Ponomaryov described them as “prisoners of war,” and warned the EU that “if they fail to remove the sanctions, then we will block access for EU representatives, and they won’t be able to get to us. I will remind my guests from the OSCE about this.”

LAVROV: SANCTIONS 'AGAINST ALL COMMON SENSE'

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov rejected U.S. and European Union sanctions on Russia over the Ukraine crisis on Tuesday, saying the sanctions lacked common sense and were the result of the West’s own weak policies.

“We reject sanctions in any of our relationships, in particular those sanctions that were sponsored by the United States and the European Union, which are against all common sense, regarding the events in Ukraine,” Lavrov said in remarks in Havana before beginning a closed-door session with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez.

KHARKIV MAYOR ‘STABLE’ IN ISRAEL

The mayor of eastern Ukraine’s biggest city was in a “stable” condition on Tuesday in a hospital in Israel, where he was flown after being wounded in the highest-profile assassination attempt in the two-month-old standoff between Kiev and Moscow.

Gennady Kernes, one of Ukraine’s most prominent Jewish politicians, was shot in the back on Monday in Kharkiv, and underwent surgery in Ukraine on Monday. Officials had said his injuries were life-threatening.

After protesters toppled pro-Moscow Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in February, Kernes, 54, supported calls for Kharkiv to become independent from Kiev’s new, pro-European leaders. But he changed his views after being accused of fomenting separatism and when Ukrainian police forced pro-Russian protesters out of administrative buildings in the city.

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