Pro-Russian separatists have shut down the main airport in Ukraine’s eastern city of Donetsk. The closure comes one day after rebels thwarted voting across parts of the country’s east in Sunday’s presidential election.
The head of Donetsk airport’s press service, Dmitry Kosinov, said dozens of armed separatists had come to the airport in the early hours of Monday morning to demand the withdrawal of Ukrainian troops. He said the men identified themselves as representatives of the “Donetsk People’s Republic.”
“On the territory of the airport there are armed people, this is ample reason to halt our work on security grounds,” Kosinov said in a statement. It was not clear when the airport would reopen.
The rebels have vowed to keep up their resistance a day after early returns from Sunday’s presidential polls saw pro-Western billionaire Petro Poroshenko set to win in the first round.
Separatists prevented about 20 percent of the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regional polling stations from opening on election day.
The exit poll results put 48-year-old Poroshenko – known as the “Chocolate King” – far ahead of his nearest rival, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko who had gained 13 percent of the vote. The country’s election commission put nationwide turnout at around 60 percent.
After the polls closed, Poroshenko promised a dialogue with residents of eastern Ukraine and to guarantee their rights. He has vowed to pay his first trip outside the capital to the eastern Donbass industrial belt.
He also said he was ready to extend amnesty to those who haven’t taken up arms. “For those who are killing the people, they are terrorists, and no country in the world has any negotiations with terrorists,” he said, speaking in English to reporters.
The election came three months after pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted from office after months of street protests and allegations of corruption. Since his ouster, Russia has annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and vowed to “protect” the country’s ethnic Russian community from alleged mistreatment.
Ahead of the polls, however, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he would respect the election’s outcome.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told news channel n-tv on Monday that he hoped Moscow would honor this commitment.
“We hope that throughout today there will be statements from… Russia, that signal that Russia respects the election,” he said. Steinmeier also said that Poroshenko should now get started on “the work, lots of work” afoot in Ukraine. The foreign minister told n-tv he was “pleased that there was no need for a second round of voting,” because this could have further destabilized the country.
hc/msh (AFP, Reuters)