Separatists end weeklong blockade of OSCE hotel accommodation in eastern Ukraine
MOSCOW / DONETSK, Ukraine, October 23 (Reuters) – Russian-backed separatists on Saturday called off a protest outside a hotel in eastern Ukraine housing international conflict observers, ending a blockade triggered by the capture of a separatist officer by Ukrainian government forces.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) observers were confined to their separatist-held hotel in Donetsk city for more than a week and had to suspend their patrol mission.
It was one of many instances where the OSCE, Europe’s main security watchdog, has been prevented from functioning since the capture of the separatist officer on October 13. The separatists had asked the OSCE for help in securing his release.
The OSCE special monitoring mission in Ukraine has been deployed in eastern Ukraine since the outbreak of a war between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed forces which Kiev says has killed 14,000 people.
Late on Saturday, a Reuters witness saw protesters dismantle tents pitched outside the Park Inn hotel in the city center and OSCE observers exit the building.
One of the protesters at the scene, who did not provide his name, cited the worsening COVID-19 situation as the reason for the protest ending.
Self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic Foreign Minister Natalya Nikonorova said protesters ended the blockade ahead of the ban on public events that goes into effect on Monday due to the pandemic.
“From Monday, the demonstration will be illegal,” Nikonorova told Reuters by telephone.
The OSCE did not immediately respond to a request for comment. On Wednesday, the OSCE Chairman-in-Office, Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde, expressed deep concern over the situation at the hotel.
“There can be no justification for any form of interference in the work of the mission,” she said in a statement.
The separatists had also blocked a hotel containing OSCE observers in nearby Horlivka, but quickly called off the protest. Read more
A Western diplomatic source said the separatists could have used the coronavirus restrictions as a pretext to end the blockade.
“I think that’s the blanket to call it… a fig leaf to make it look like it’s not a descent,” he said.
Editing by Matthias Williams and Christina Fincher
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