Ukraine crisis: Russia urges Kiev to avoid force in east

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Media captionRussian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin calls on the Ukrainian government to cease a "war with its own people"

Russia has urged the authorities in Kiev not to use force against pro-Russian protesters in eastern Ukraine.

At a special UN Security Council session, Russia's ambassador called on Kiev to "start a genuine dialogue".

But Ukraine's UN ambassador Yuriy Sergeyev said Moscow had artificially created the crisis in eastern Ukraine.

A deadline set by Ukraine for pro-Russian activists to leave the government buildings they are occupying expired at 06:00 GMT on Monday.

Kiev had promised military action if they failed to leave and people in eastern Ukraine are now waiting to see if interim president Olexander Turchynov uses the army to try to take back control of the buildings.

On Sunday, he said his military forces would launch a "full-scale anti-terrorist operation" against the armed men holding the buildings.

The Assistant UN Secretary General had warned that Ukraine "teeters on the brink".

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Image caption Ukraine's government had called on pro-Russians to end their occupation of official buildings in the east
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Pro-Russian gunmen took up positions on the outskirts of Sloviansk on Sunday

The BBC's Daniel Sandford in Donetsk says this could prove a critical day in eastern Ukraine - but that such deadlines have come and gone before.

The new administration in Kiev is struggling for credibility in the east of the country and several towns and cities were effectively taken over by pro-Russian groups over the weekend.

Sloviansk, in the Donetsk region, is completely surrounded by rebel barricades and checkpoints manned by pro-Russian militia are stationed on major roads leading into the city.

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Media captionUkrainian ambassador to the UN Yuriy Sergeyev asks for Russia to "leave us in peace"

Although Kiev has promised to take back control of Sloviansk, an all-out assault carries huge risks and could trigger a reaction from Russia, which has tens of thousands of troops camped near its border with Ukraine.

Russian Ambassador to the UN, Vitaliy Churkin, told an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council that there were neo-Nazis and anti-Semites within the ranks of "the self-proclaimed government in Kiev".

He said the opinions and interests of protesters in eastern Ukraine had not been taken into consideration.

"The henchmen of Maidan [protest movement] must stop attacking their own people," said Mr Churkin.

European Union foreign ministers are due to meet later on Monday in Luxembourg to discuss the crisis.

Troop build-up

The US said Russia was "spreading fiction" and that the events of the past week mirrored those preceding the annexation of Crimea.

"We know who is behind this," said Samantha Power, the United States' permanent representative to the UN.

She said that the US would still take part in talks on the crisis planned for Geneva on Thursday.

However, she said that if the talks were to succeed, Russia would have to explain the build-up of 40,000 troops on Ukraine's eastern border.

It was the 10th time the Security Council has convened to discuss the Ukraine crisis.

President Turchynov said he would not allow a repetition in the east of what happened in Crimea, which was annexed by Russia last month.

Eastern Ukraine has a large Russian-speaking population and has seen a series of protests since the ousting of Ukraine's pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych in February.

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Image caption Pro-Russian protesters have been camped in Luhansk for days
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Image caption There were rival pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian rallies in the town of Kharkiv on Sunday