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Tens Of Thousands Attend Funeral For Slain Ukraine Separatist Leader Zakharchenko


Slain Separatist Leader Mourned In Donetsk
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WATCH: Slain Separatist Leader Mourned In Donetsk

Tens of thousands of people gathered on September 2 in the separatist stronghold of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine to mourn a top rebel leader who was recently killed in a bomb attack.

Aleksandr Zakharchenko, the head of the separatists who control the city of Donetsk, was killed in an explosion at a cafe on August 31.

The killing was the latest in a series of violent deaths of separatist officials and commanders in eastern Ukraine, where the Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces since April 2014 in a war that has killed more than 10,300. Many of the assassinations have been blamed on fellow separatists.

Kyiv and Moscow have traded blame for Zakharchenko's death.

On September 2, mourners formed a huge line to view the flag-draped casket of Zakharchenko, whose body was lying in state in the separatist-held city of Donetsk’s Opera and Ballet Theater.

The self-proclaimed Donetsk authorities said at least 100,000 people attended, while the AFP news agency estimated that more than 30,000 turned up.

There were some reports saying that people were bused to Donetsk and forced to attend the event.

Zakharchenko was later buried in a ceremony at the Donetskoye More cemetery, Russia’s state-run TASS news agency reported.

The leader of Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia, Anatoly Bibilov; Natalya Poklonskaya, a member of the Russian State Duma; and Sergei Aksyonov, the head of the Russian-imposed government in Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow illegally annexed in March 2014, were among those who paid their respects to the late separatist leader.

A portrait of Zakharchenko hangs outside the Donetsk Opera and Ballet Theatre.
A portrait of Zakharchenko hangs outside the Donetsk Opera and Ballet Theatre.

Aleksandr Zaldostanov, the leader of the Night Wolves, a Russian motorcycle club known for its allegiance to the Kremlin, and several other members of the club also turned out, according to AFP.

During the ceremonies, the center of Donetsk was cordoned off by armed men in fatigues and public transport was temporarily suspended.

Billboards erected in the streets showed pictures of Zakharchenko with slogans such as "All of us have one Motherland – Russia."

In a statement carried by the separatists’ official news agency, Russian President Vladimir Putin's adviser, Vladislav Surkov, called the separatist leader a "brother" and a “true hero.”

Putin expressed his condolences for the "vile murder," the Kremlin has said.

Russia and the separatists were quick to blame Kyiv for Zakharchenko's death, but Ukraine’s security service said it believes the attack was the result of a conflict between "terrorists and their Russian sponsors."

"We do not exclude an attempt by the Russian special services to eliminate a rather odious figure who, according to the information we have, was meddlesome for the Russians," the Ukrainian security service was quoted by state media as saying on September 1.

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that international talks over the conflict in eastern Ukraine could no longer be considered following Zakharchenko's killing.

Ukrainian Separatist Leader Zakharchenko Dies In Cafe Blast
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Lavrov said the bombing was "Ukraine's provocation...obviously aimed at derailing the implementation of the Minsk agreements," referring to the September 2014 and February 2015 pacts aimed at putting an end to the fighting in Ukraine’s eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, according to TASS.

One of Zakharchenko’s bodyguards also died as a result of the August 31 blast in Donetsk, while a dozen others were injured.

Dmitry Trapeznikov, a top separatist official, was named as acting leader.

He said a number of suspects have been detained since the explosion.

The separatist movement has been plagued by infighting, with several leaders fleeing the region after saying they had been subject to threats from former comrades.

With reporting by AFP and the BBC