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Govt warns of force in east Ukraine

Tensions have risen in the mainly Russian-speaking east since the overthrow of Ukraine's president.

A pro-Russian activist guards a road block outside the regional Security Service building in Lugansk, eastern Ukraine, on 9 April. Picture: AFP.

UKRAINE - Pro-Russian separatists reinforced barricades around the state security building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Luhansk on Wednesday and called on President Vladimir Putin for help after the government warned it could use force to restore order.

But protesters were also engaged in talks to ease the standoff, which Kiev has said could provide a pretext for a Russian invasion, and lawmakers from eastern Ukraine proposed an amnesty for protesters to defuse tension.

The former KGB headquarters is one of three government buildings seized this week in eastern Ukraine by protesters demanding regional referendums on independence from Kiev, like the one in Crimea that led to its annexation by Russia.

Tensions have risen in the mainly Russian-speaking east since the overthrow of Ukraine's Moscow-backed president and the installation of a new pro-European government.

Sandbags and wooden crates were piled near the entrance of the building to defend it against the police. Men with rifles could be seen through broken windows above.

Local police spokeswoman Tatyana Pogukai said protesters had found an arsenal of weapons within the building. Protesters say they have 200-300 Kalashnikov automatic rifles.

She denied previous reports that hostages had been taken and said negotiations had been carried out overnight but the two sides had not come to an agreement.

Protesters in Donetsk, to the south, remain in control of the main regional authority building, but authorities have ended the occupation in the city of Kharkiv.

FORCEFUL ANSWER

"A resolution to this crisis will be found within the next 48 hours," Interior Minister Arsen Avakov told reporters in the capital Kiev.

"For those who want dialogue, we propose talks and a political solution. For the minority who want conflict they will get a forceful answer from the Ukrainian authorities."

Ukraine's state security service said that 50 people had left the building in Luhansk overnight.

Protesters confirmed that some had left.

US Secretary of State John Kerry accused Russian agents and special forces on Tuesday of stirring up separatist unrest and said Moscow could be trying to prepare for military action as it had in Crimea.

Russia denied the accusations and dismissed concerns over a troop build-up near the border with Ukraine in what has become the worst East-West crisis since the end of the Cold War in 1991.

"The United States and Ukraine have no reason to be worried. Russia has stated many times that it is not carrying out any unusual or unplanned activity on its territory near the border with Ukraine that would be of military significance," said the Russian foreign ministry.