Ukraine's interim president says he has launched a crackdown on pro-Russian demonstrators who have taken over state buildings in eastern Ukraine.
Oleksander Turchynov told lawmakers Tuesday that government forces have begun an operation in the region of Donetsk, where pro-Moscow forces have ignored Kyiv's previous ultimatums to surrender.
Mr. Turchynov told lawmakers the crackdown was being carried out gradually and cautiously. He said Moscow has intentionally inflamed the situation in the east.
to be on fire. They want the whole south and east of Ukraine to be on fire - from Kharkiv region to Odessa region.''
END OPT. SOUNDBITE))
Opposition leader Vitaly Klitschko, who helped lead the protests that drove pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych from office, urged Mr. Turchynov to send Ukrainian armed forces to the region to drive out the separatists.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says Moscow will withdraw from an emergency international summit scheduled for Thursday in Geneva if Kyiv uses force in eastern Ukraine.
Tensions over the crisis spilled into the streets of Kyiv Tuesday, when dozens of activists assaulted pro-Russian lawmaker Oleh Tsaryov outside a television studio. Tsaryov is a candidate in presidential elections to be held on May 25.
Western governments have accused Moscow of backing the protests in eastern Ukraine. U.S. President Barack Obama warned Russian President Vladimir Putin in a phone call Monday that Moscow will face further costs if its actions in Ukraine persist. He also urged the Russian leader to use his influence to persuade the demonstrators to leave the buildings they have seized.
In turn, Mr. Putin urged Mr. Obama to discourage the Ukrainian government from using force against protesters.
The demonstrators are demanding a referendum on whether to split with Ukraine and join Russia - similar to the recent vote in Crimea.
A report issued Tuesday by U.N.'s human rights commissioner accuses Russia of manipulating the March 16th vote through propaganda, harassment and torture of anti-Russian activists.
White House officials say U.S. Vice President Joe Biden will travel to Kyiv April 22.