East Ukraine: Steelworkers move to restore order

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Media captionSteelworkers have been on patrol in Mariupol

Steelworkers employed by Ukraine's richest man have stepped in to restore order in the eastern city of Mariupol after deadly clashes.

Employees of Rinat Akhmetov joined forces with Ukrainian police to force out pro-Russian separatists who had taken control of government buildings.

This may be a new strategy to push back separatists, a BBC correspondent says.

Violence between separatists and pro-Ukrainian forces has left dozens dead in the east and south this month.

At least seven people, thought to be mainly separatists, were shot dead in the city when troops opened fire last week.

The UN has warned of an "alarming deterioration" in human rights in the region.

The revolt in the east gained momentum after Russia annexed Ukraine's mainly ethnic Russian region of Crimea in March.

Moscow acted after the overthrow of Ukraine's elected pro-Russian President, Viktor Yanukovych, during unrest in the capital Kiev in February.

A new Ukrainian president is due to be elected on 25 May.

'Everyone ran'

The new joint patrols began on Thursday, apparently on the initiative of Mr Akhmetov, says the BBC's Mark Lowen in Donetsk.

Workers from local steel plants set about removing barricades set up by pro-Russian separatists, forcing them out of the city.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Metinvest workers were cleaning up the streets in Mariupol on Friday
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Pro-Russian activists were still out in force in parts of Mariupol on Friday

The employees, wearing hard-hats and protective clothing, are operating with Ukrainian police and appear to have re-established control.

There was some confusion amid reports that some separatists had themselves agreed to let the steelworkers clear up the streets.

German Mandrakov, who commanded separatists at Mariupol's occupied government buildings, told the Associated Press news agency that his associates had fled while he was "forced" to leave the building they had controlled for weeks.

"Everyone ran away,'' he said. "Someone is trying to sow discord among us, someone has signed something, but we will continue our fight."

Image copyright AP
Image caption Steelworkers cleared debris from inside government buildings in Mariupol
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption They marched into the buildings with police

Later on Friday, pro-Russian activists held a meeting in the city to discuss how to disrupt the Ukrainian presidential election.

Mr Akhmetov was formerly a supporter of Mr Yanukovych, but now backs a united Ukraine, anxious that the separatists are jeopardising the steel and iron exports of the region, our correspondent says.

The workers say that they want to extend the practice into other cities in the east in the hope of breaking the hold of pro-Russian groups.

But since Ukrainian armed forces have struggled to push back the separatists, it is unclear how successful the local patrols could be in cities more heavily fortified by the insurgents, our correspondent adds.

Image copyright BC

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