Friday, November 21, 2014   

Ukrainian rebels seize Donetsk airport
(05-26 18:48)

Scores of armed separatists seized control of Donetsk airport Monday, halting flights out of the rebellion-hit eastern Ukraine city in a clear signal of defiance after the country chose a new president.
The strategic transport hub was evacuated and sealed off after gunmen claiming to be from the self-declared "Donetsk People's Republic'' showed up overnight demanding that Ukrainian troops guarding the airport perimeter be withdrawn.
The raid was launched in the hours after billionaire Petro Poroshenko claimed victory in a presidential election on Sunday that the pro-Russian rebels have dismissed as illegitimate.
"At 3:00 in the morning, a group of armed men came. There was no shooting,'' airport spokesman Dmytro Kosinov told AFP.
The last scheduled airplane allowed to leave was the 7:00 am (0400 GMT) flight to Kiev.
"We do not know when we will be up working again,'' Kosinov said.
An AFP journalist saw three military trucks with scores of well-armed men in camouflage, some wearing pro-Russian ribbons and others with Cossack hats and beards, driving towards the airport through a traffic police checkpoint a few hundred metres from the main terminal.
Airport officials stopped media and passengers wanting to travel from getting close enough to the main entrance to see the airport buildings but an AFP journalist saw people walking around on the roof of the modern terminal from another location on the edge of the airport territory.
It was too far away to see if the people were armed.
Unconfirmed reports suggested that a stand-off between rebels and Ukrainian troops refusing to surrender or leave their posts was going on inside the airport complex.
Separatists in the heavily-Russified eastern rust belt of the ex-Soviet nation launched an insurgency against Kiev's rule in early April and have seized about a dozen cities and towns in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions neighbouring Russia. -- AFP   
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