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September 24, 2017

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Odessa violence part of Russia plan 'to destroy Ukraine': PM

ODESSA, Ukraine -- More than 2,000 pro-Russian militants on Sunday stormed the police headquarters in the Ukrainian port city of Odessa, where 42 people died in clashes two days ago.

An AFP reporter on the scene said the crowd shouted "fascists, fascists" as they attacked the building, demanding the release of some of their number arrested during the clashes.

In a bid to calm the crowd, police freed one of the detained pro-Russians, who emerged to cheers of "well played" from the protesters.

The protesters, some armed with batons, had made it into an interior courtyard.

Deadly clashes in Odessa were part of a plan by Russia "to destroy Ukraine," the prime minister of the ex-Soviet republic said on Sunday.

"Russia's aim was to repeat in Odessa what is happening in the east of the country," Arseniy Yatsenyuk told a news conference.

He was speaking during a visit to the southern port city of one million inhabitants after the violence that erupted on Friday.

After street clashes between pro-Russian militants and pro-Ukrainian activists that killed four, a huge inferno in a building where the pro-Russians took refuge killed another 38 after both sides traded petrol bombs, according to witnesses.

The tragic confrontation abruptly plunged Odessa into the same sort of violence that has gripped east Ukraine for the past two months. Kiev accuses Moscow of being behind an insurgency that has seen rebels taken control of more than a dozen eastern towns.

"What happened in Odessa was part of plan by the Russian Federation to destroy Ukraine and its statehood," Yatsenyuk said.

"Russia sent people here to create chaos."

He urged all Ukrainians to unite and to bury their differences "so as not to give the terrorists backed by Moscow the opportunity to divide our people."

He also said that the police chiefs of Odessa have all been sacked for not preventing the clashes and ensuing deaths. They would be replaced, he said.

Yatsenyuk's visit to the grief-stricken Black Sea port city came on the last day of a weekend of mourning decreed for those killed in the violence there and in the east.

Ukraine's authorities have previously admitted its security forces were "helpless" to roll back the pro-Russian militants in the east.

They have ordered the military to conduct an operation to against the rebels. Fierce fighting has been going on since Friday, especially around the flashpoint town of Slavyansk.

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