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Russia angry as east Ukraine shootout shatters truce

SLAVYANSK, Ukraine--A deadly gunfight in a town in restive east Ukraine on Sunday shattered a fragile Easter truce, with Russia declaring it was “outraged” at the return to violence in the crisis-hit former Soviet republic.

Three pro-Russian militants and one attacker were killed in a firefight at a roadblock close to the separatist-held town of Slavyansk, said a local pro-Kremlin rebel leader, Vyatcheslav Ponomarev.

Vladimir, a masked 20-year-old pro-Russian rebel who was at the barricade, told AFP: “Four cars pulled up to our roadblock around 1 a.m. (2200 GMT Saturday). We wanted to conduct a check and then they opened fire on us with automatic weapons.”

He said there were around 20 attackers and confirmed the three rebel deaths, but was not sure of casualties on the other side.

An AFP photographer saw the bodies of two dead militants laid out in a truck near the scene.

The identity of the assailants, who escaped before militant reinforcements arrived, was not known.

The Ukrainian interior ministry confirmed there was an “armed clash” but gave a toll of one dead and three injured. It said police were investigating.

'Provocation'

The gunfight broke days of relative calm.

Western-backed authorities in Kiev had announced they were suspending military operations to oust the rebels over Easter, which ends Monday. The last deadly clash was last Thursday, when three pro-Russian militants were killed by Ukrainian soldiers when they tried to attack a military base in the southeast port city of Mariupol.

Russia's foreign ministry quickly seized upon the latest violence, saying in a statement that Moscow was “outraged at this

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A local resident inspects burnt-out cars after an evening fight at the checkpoint under control of pro-Russian activists in the village of Bulbasika near Slovyansk on Sunday, April 20.(AP

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