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Ukraine Issues Friday Deadline to End Occupation of Government Facilities

Ukraine says it will end by Friday the pro-Russian separatist occupation of government buildings near the Russian border, either through negotiations or by force.

Addressing the stalemate in the eastern cities of Luhansk and Donetsk, Ukraine Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said Wednesday: "For those who want dialogue, we propose talks and a political solution. For the minority who want conflict, they will get a forceful answer."

The warning from Kyiv came Wednesday, as U.S. diplomat Victoria Nuland told a U.S. Congressional committee that the building takeovers were "very carefully orchestrated, well-planned, well-targeted" moves. She also cited "overwhelming evidence" of Russian involvement, and warned of consequences if the "aggressive actions" are allowed to go unchecked.

Additionally, Nuland told lawmakers that U.S. diplomats do not hold out high expectations for talks next week involving top diplomats from Ukraine, Russia, the United States and the European Union.

No venue has been announced for the emergency talks unveiled Wednesday, but EU officials say they will take place in a European capital.

Pro-Moscow protesters earlier this week seized government buildings in several eastern Ukraine cities and demanded a vote on joining the Russian federation.

On Tuesday U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called those developments, as well as a massive Russian troop deployment near the Ukraine border, "a contrived pretext for military intervention just as we saw in Crimea."

Moscow annexed Ukraine's Crimean peninsula last month, after a staged referendum held with Russian troops already occupying and controlling the territory.

The Russian Foreign Ministry on Wednesday again sought to downplay the significance of the troop buildup, saying Russian forces are not carrying out any "unusual" activity in the border regions. Moscow has repeatedly characterized the deployment as a training mission planned long before the Ukraine crisis erupted late last year.

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