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Ukrainian Minister Asks For Police To Break Up Activist Blockade Of East

Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov

Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov says he has requested permission for the police to break up an activist blockade of the country's transit routes with areas of the east held by separatists.

Ukrainian activists, including some members of parliament and many veterans of the conflict with Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, have been blockading train routes to the east since late January.

The blockade has cut off critically needed coal imports from eastern Ukraine that run western Ukrainian power plants, causing power shortages and other harm to the national economy.

The disruptions prompted Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko recently to declare an emergency.

"A decision needs to be made," Avakov told a gathering of metals industry representatives in Kyiv, denouncing the blockade as having no positive result. "Let's give powers to the law enforcement agencies to fix the situation."

Meanwhile, separatists have threatened to stop supplying coal and to take over Ukrainian companies that do not pay a tax to their two self-proclaimed separatist republics.

The separatists have a set deadline of March 1 for companies to register with their so-called "tax authorities."

Based on reporting by dpa, Interfax, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, and Ukrainian Channel 112