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Saturday, May 24, 2014

World

'War situation' as rebels threaten vote in east Ukraine

AFP | Saturday, May 24, 2014

DONETSK, Ukraine - "We're in a war situation," says one of the deliverymen bringing ballot papers in under armed guard to a polling station in the eastern Ukrainian town of Dobropillya.

"There is more security this time," he adds.

Ukraine goes to the polls Sunday to elect a new president, but pro-Russian separatists have threatened disrupt the vote in towns and cities they control in the industrial east.

"We intend to make sure that voting does not take place here on our territory. If necessary we will revert to the use of force," said Denis Pushilin, a top leader of the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic.

"We have the right to do so because our countrymen are dying here every day," he told reporters.

The Kiev authorities have warned they may not be able to ensure voting takes place across the east, where there are already numerous reports of militants intimidating election workers and seizing polling stations.

Security concerns have also been heightened after a deadly surge in violence this week, with well over two dozen people - perhaps many more - killed in fighting between Ukrainian forces and the rebels.

In Dobropillya, the ballot papers arrived in a funeral van along with a security guard carrying an AK-47 rifle and were carried into the town hall basement by local election workers.

A few dozen unarmed policemen stood around nearby, looking bored.

"The elections will definitely take place here," said Yelena Ganicheva, head of the election commission in Dopropillya, which lies some 100 kilometres (60 miles) from Donetsk and is under Kiev's control.

Inside the town hall, a Ukrainian flag flying from the roof, workers from the district election commission were filling in forms as they awaited the delivery of the ballot papers.

Around the district covering some 80 polling stations almost all are planning to operate, except in separatist-controlled Druzhkivka where the election commission was disbanded.

"The voting booths are in place, the ballot boxes are there," said Ganicheva.

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