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Pro-Russian Insurgents: We Will Only Leave If Kiev Interim Government Resigns

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Armed men guard at a regional state building seized by the separatists in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk on April 18, 2014. (credit: GENYA SAVILOV/AFP/Getty Images)

Armed men guard at a regional state building seized by the separatists in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk on April 18, 2014. (credit: GENYA SAVILOV/AFP/Getty Images)

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DONETSK, Ukraine (CBS News/CBSDC/AP) — Pro-Russian insurgents in Ukraine’s east who have been occupying government buildings in more than 10 cities said Friday they will only leave them if the interim government in Kiev resigns.

Denis Pushilin, a spokesman of the self-appointed Donetsk People’s Republic, told reporters the insurgents do not recognize the Ukrainian government as legitimate.

Ukraine and Russia, with the United States and European Union taking part in the negotiations taking place in Geneva, agreed Thursday on tentative steps toward calming tensions along the shared Ukraine-Russia border after more than a month of bloodshed.

But Pushilin, speaking at the insurgent-occupied regional administration’s building in Donetsk, said the deal specifies that all illegally seized buildings should be vacated and in his opinion, the government in Kiev is also occupying public buildings illegally.

“This is a reasonable agreement, but everyone should vacate the buildings, and that includes Yatsenyuk and Turchynov,” he said, referring to the acting Ukrainian prime minister and president.

The deal calls for disarming all paramilitary groups and the immediate return of all government buildings seized by pro-Russian militia. But none of the government buildings seized across eastern Ukraine has yet been vacated, according to local media.

The Ukrainian government as well as the Right Sector movement, whose activists are occupying Kiev’s city hall and a cultural center in the capital, have not commented on the call for buildings in Kiev to be vacated.

Pushilin on Friday reiterated the insurgents’ call for a referendum he said would enable “self-determination of the people.”

The Russian foreign ministry had no immediate comment.

Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk told the parliament Friday morning that the government has drafted a law that would offer amnesty to all those who will be willing to lay down their arms and leave the occupied government buildings.

The Reuters news agency quotes Ukraine security officials as saying Friday that Ukraine’s military-led push to drive out pro-Russian separatists in the country’s east will go on despite the accord reached in Geneva.

On Thursday, thousands gathered at peaceful demonstrations in at least four eastern cities to denounce Russia for its perceived meddling in Ukrainian affairs.

Political developments in eastern Ukraine have for weeks been dominated by a small but vocal and armed opposition to the interim government in Kiev.

In a television appearance in Moscow on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin denied claims that Russian special forces were fomenting unrest in eastern Ukraine. He called the Ukrainian government’s effort to quash the uprising a “crime.”

In Washington, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the U.S. would send non-lethal assistance to Ukraine’s military in light of what he called Russia’s ongoing destabilizing actions there. He told a Pentagon news conference that the military assistance to Ukraine will include medical supplies, helmets, water purification units and power generators.

Ukraine has asked for military assistance from the U.S., a request that was believed to include lethal aid like weapons and ammunition. Obama administration officials have said they were not actively considering lethal assistance for fear it could escalate an already tense situation.

The U.S. has already sent Ukraine other assistance, such as pre-packaged meals for its military.

In Brussels, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the military alliance would increase its presence in Eastern Europe, including flying more sorties over the Baltic region west of Ukraine and deploying allied warships to the Baltic Sea and the eastern Mediterranean. NATO’s supreme commander in Europe, U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, told reporters that ground forces also could be involved at some point, but gave no details.

Officials said a full-scale Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine would result in broad U.S. and European sanctions on key Russian economic sectors, including its powerful energy industry. However, European nations are divided on whether to limit its access to Russia’s oil and gas supplies, and a vote to sanction must be unanimous among the EU’s 28 member states.

The sanctions that could be levied in the aftermath of the Geneva meeting were expected to focus on Putin’s close associates, including oligarchs who control much of Russia’s wealth, as well as businesses and other entities they control. It was unclear whether those sanctions would change Putin’s calculus, given that the U.S. and the Europeans already have launched targeted sanctions on people in Putin’s inner circle.

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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