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Ukraine claims advances on rebel-held positions

By The Associated Press

This article was published May 4, 2014 at 10:48 a.m.

— Authorities in Ukraine on Sunday said government forces reclaimed a television tower during a security operation to quell pro-Russian rebel activity in the eastern town of Kramatorsk.

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said in a statement on his Facebook page that a new assault to reclaim control over the town by the National Guard and armed forces began at dawn.

The city saw a standoff Saturday that culminated in insurgents setting buses alight to ward off attacks. Russian state television has reported 10 deaths, including two among government forces, during clashes in Kramatorsk so far. Those figures could not be independently confirmed.

At least 12 government armored personnel carriers were spotted driving through the town Saturday, although they appeared to have returned to their base at a military airfield on the edge of the city by day's end.

Efforts to counteract the insurgency have focused mostly on the nearby town of Slovyansk; authorities are currently seeking to form a security cordon around that city.

The blockade has already resulted in a spate of panic-buying in the city with long lines forming outside grocery stores.

Ukrainian authorities have repeatedly claimed victories in capturing checkpoints surrounding the city, although such boasts have often proven overstated.

Government buildings have been seized by pro-Russian forces in more than a dozen or so cities and town across eastern Ukraine.

Andriy Parubiy, secretary of Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council, said an "anti-terrorist operation" will be carried out in towns beyond Slovyansk and Kramatorsk, according to Interfax-Ukraine news agency.

Traffic around the Donetsk region, where the insurgency is strongest, has been impeded by a proliferation barricades manned by men armed variously with sticks, automatic rifles and handguns.

The goals of the insurgency are ostensibly geared toward pushing for broad powers of autonomy. Russia, which the international community has accused of promoting the unrest, has vociferously condemned recent Ukrainian security operations in the east.

Tensions soared Friday when dozens of anti-government protesters died while trapped in a fire in the city of Odessa.

The self-styled Donetsk People's Republic says it plans to hold a referendum on autonomy by May 11, but with less than a week remaining, little visible effort has been to make that vote happen.

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