Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk accused Russia yesterday of engineering clashes in Odessa that led to the deaths of more than 40 pro-Russian activists in a blazing building and pushed the country closer to civil war.
Yatseniuk, speaking in Odessa, attacked police forces in the Black Sea port city, suggesting they were more interested in the fruits of corruption than maintaining order. Had they done their job, he said, "these terrorist organisations would have been foiled".
Friday's clashes were the most deadly since Moscow-oriented president Viktor Yanukovich was forced to flee in February and pro-Russian militants launched uprisings in the industrial east. They also marked the first serious disorder outside eastern areas since Yanukovich fell, heralding possible future trouble for Kiev.
"There were dozens of casualties resulting from a well-prepared and organised action against people, against Ukraine and against Odessa," Yatseniuk told representatives of social organisations.
He dismissed Russian accusations that his government was provoking bloodshed in the east with an operation to restore Kiev's authority in a series of cities under rebel control.
"The process of dialogue had begun, only it was drowned out by the sound of shooting from automatic rifles of Russian production," he said.
Ukraine also vowed yesterday to broaden its operation against pro-Russian rebels as the crisis-hit country observed a second day of mourning after the violence.
National Security and Defence Council chief Andriy Parubiy said the armed forces would expand the "active stage of the operation in other towns where extremists and terrorists are carrying out illegal activities".
AFP reporters near the eastern town of Kostyantynivka, where rebels seized the town hall on April 28, saw a pro-Russian checkpoint abandoned and smouldering while barricades were being hastily erected in the centre.
Rebels defending the town hall behind makeshift barriers told AFP there had been fighting overnight near the town's television tower.