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In Ukraine, Akhmetov Calls Peaceful Protest Against Separatists


People take part in a peace rally held at the Donbas-Arena in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on May 20.
People take part in a peace rally held at the Donbas-Arena in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on May 20.
A peaceful protest against pro-Russian separatists initiated by Ukraine's richest man, Rinat Akhmetov, has been held in Ukraine's eastern city of Donetsk as Moscow said it was preparing to pull back troops from its border with Ukraine.

Some 400 activists dressed in the jerseys of Akhmetov's Shakhtar Donetsk soccer team gathered in the Donbas-Arena sports stadium in downtown Donetsk on May 20 after many large industrial facilities in the region set off sirens at noon to mark the start of the protest.

Automobiles in Donetsk beeped their horns to express solidarity with people protesting against pro-Russian separatists, who in April proclaimed the Ukrainian region the "Donetsk People's Republic" (DNR).

On the stadium screen a video was shown of a May 19 televised statement by Akhmetov in which he called on Donetsk residents to take part in daily protests against the separatists, saying that "people are tired of living in fear and terror."

In his video statement, Akhmetov warned that the actions of the pro-Kremlin separatists, who have seized administrative buildings in towns and cities across Ukraine's east, would lead to "genocide."

He said the rebels had done nothing for the region but were instead engaging in "banditry and looting."

WATCH: YouTube video of Akhmetov's televised appeal for the work stoppage to combat alleged wrongdoing by the "Donetsk People's Republic."

One of the leaders of rebels in Donetsk, Denis Pushilin, threatened to nationalize Akhmetov's assets over his refusal to pay taxes to the DNR.

Akhmetov, whose fortune is estimated at $12 billion, operates a vast industrial empire in the eastern region known as Donbas. "Across all of Donbas, there are millions ready to join in," he said.

Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov expressed support via Facebook for Akhmetov's move, warning "haters" that "it's too late." He said that "the people's power and energy will sweep trash better than any [antiterrorism officers]."

The UN's refugee agency, the UNHCR, said on May 20 that at least 10,000 people have been driven from their homes since the start of the Ukraine crisis, with Crimean Tatars the hardest-hit community.

"Displacement in Ukraine started before the March referendum in Crimea and has been rising gradually since," Adrian Edwards, spokesman for the UN high commissioner for refugees, said in Geneva in connection with the release of the figure.

Edwards added, "Most of those displaced are ethnic Tatars, although local authorities have also reported a recent rise in registrations of ethnic Ukrainians, Russians, and mixed families."

Meanwhile, Russia's Defense Ministry on May 20 said its forces in the border regions of Bryansk, Belgorod, and Rostov regions were preparing to leave following a May 19 order from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The ministry said it would take time for troops to dismantle their camps and load equipment on trucks for a march to railway stations.

It did not say how many troops were being withdrawn from the three regions or how long it would take.

Ukrainian news agencies quoted Ukrainian border-guard official Serhiy Astakhov on May 20 as saying that Moscow had withdrawn all its forces at least 10 kilometers from the border with Ukraine.

NATO, which estimates that Russia has 40,000 soldiers along the border with Ukraine, said it was monitoring the situation closely but could not yet confirm a change.

NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said Moscow should "prove that they are doing what they are saying."
With reporting by UNIAN, Reuters, and AFP
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