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Tension rises in east Ukraine ahead of Sunday referendum

Published on May 10, 2014 5:15 PM
 
People walk near a burning barricade outside the city hall in south-eastern port city of Mariupol on May 9, 2014. Tension was running at fever pitch in eastern Ukraine on Saturday on the eve of an independence referendum, as rebels briefly held several Red Cross staff on suspicion of espionage. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

DONETSK, Ukraine (AFP) - Tension was running at fever pitch in eastern Ukraine on Saturday on the eve of an independence referendum, as rebels briefly held several Red Cross staff on suspicion of espionage.

While preparations were in full swing for the disputed vote in the two eastern regions of Donetsk and Lugansk, the port city of Mariupol to the south observed a day of mourning for at least 21 killed in violent clashes on Friday.

The West believes the referendum could lead to the two regions asking to join Russia and has stressed that holding the vote will deepen what is already the worst crisis in relations with Moscow since the end of the Cold War.

The International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva said nine of its staff - four from Donetsk, four from Kiev and one from Switzerland - were held "for a few hours" before being released apparently unharmed.

 
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