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article imageThe swift, violent seizure of Donetsk prosecutor's office

By Michel Moutot (AFP)     May 1, 2014 in World

One swipe of a Ukrainian policeman's baton was all it took to enflame the mob surrounding Donetsk's prosector's office. Thirty minutes later, the Russian flag was flying over the building.

A swift but violent assault followed, as the pro-Russian crowd lobbed Molotov cocktails and rocks at the outnumbered police officers, who responded with tear gas and stun grenades.

The fall of the prosecutor's office in Donetsk, where rebels already hold several other buildings, again showed the impotence of the Western-backed authorities in Kiev to stop the insurgency that threatens to tear the country apart.

The day started peacefully enough. Several thousand gathered, Russian flags waving in the wind, under the town's statue of Lenin, before heading towards the World War II memorial.

Whipping up the crowd, a car with loudspeakers blared out Soviet war songs and carried a flag bearing the image of Soviet dictator Stalin holding a Kalashnikov rifle with the slogan "death to fascism".

The mood began to turn when the crowd of around 10,000 reached the police headquarters.

Pro-Russian separatists stand in front of riot-police forces prior to storming the prosecutor's...
Pro-Russian separatists stand in front of riot-police forces prior to storming the prosecutor's office in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, on May 1, 2014
Genya Savilov, AFP

A rebel leader yelled to the crowd: "The police are the police of the people. The enemy is the prosecutor, who gives orders against the people. Let's go tell him what we think."

Outside the building, the mob encountered a nervous phalanx of riot police behind metal shields, batons drawn.

Youths in ski masks with improvised weapons approached and within seconds the police were hit with a hail of rocks.

Those who didn't flee inside were quickly surrounded and beaten.

From the windows, police lobbed tear gas and stun grenades, which only served to outrage the crowd further as they yelled "fascists, fascists".

A second front opened up at the back of the building as the mob deployed Molotov cocktails and, almost as quickly as it had begun, they were in charge: the latest in a string of public buildings to fall under rebel control.

- A tank! A tank! -

Communist Party activists wearing t-shirts with former Soviet Union state emblem stand in front of L...
Communist Party activists wearing t-shirts with former Soviet Union state emblem stand in front of Lenin's monument during a rally marking May Day in eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on May 1, 2014
Genya Savilov, AFP

Captured police officers were swiftly stripped of their shields and weapons, but when they were down to their uniforms, the crowd let them go.

The young officers, several in tears, had to run the gauntlet of the crowd as angry old women spat at them and slapped them.

Accompanied by the rebels themselves, they were helped into ambulances if wounded, or told to clear the scene if not.

In another humiliation for the law enforcement bodies that the interim president has slammed for "inaction" and "treachery", the crowd easily managed to scare off an advancing armoured police vehicle.

"A tank! A tank! Everyone come!" went up the shout as the vehicle rumbled up the street. The crowd rushed towards it and it beat a hasty retreat within seconds.

Once inside and in control of the building, the marauding militants quickly tore down the yellow and blue Ukrainian flag, replacing it with a Russia one to cheers of "Good riddance" from the crowd.

A pro-Russian militiant burns an prosector's uniform as a crowd of some 300 storms an office in...
A pro-Russian militiant burns an prosector's uniform as a crowd of some 300 storms an office in eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on May 1, 2014
Genya Savilov, AFP

Dozens of masked insurgents rampaged through the building, deserted due to a public holiday, smashing down doors and rifling through drawers and cupboards.

"We're looking for the keys to the chests where they keep the weapons," said one man as he smashed the lock on an office door.

"We have to get the weapons. The national guard is on its way from Kiev to kill us."

In another office, a rebel was on the hunt for "documents that will tell us where they have put our guys they have taken as prisoners".

He tipped out the contents of the drawer onto the floor, but emerged empty-handed.

In front of the building, rebels build a bonfire of Ukrainian symbols: a flag, a plaque, anything bearing the trident that is the nation's emblem.

AFP did not see either side use live ammunition, but local authorities later said that among the 15 injured there was one with gunshot wounds.

Vladimir, a car mechanic of 22, removed his ski mask to reveal a broad smile.

"The People's Republic of Donetsk will take control of all public institutions in this region," he said.

"This prosecutor was against the people. All those who are against the people will suffer the same fate."

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