Donetsk Governor Detained, Thousands Gather to Protest

KIEV, Ukraine -- Prosecutors have detained the governor of Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region, who advocated splitting off eastern regions of the country during last year's presidential campaign, on charges of extortion, abuse of power, fraud and conspiracy to commit murder.

Governor Borys Kolesnikov was held Wednesday after being questioned by prosecutors, his spokeswoman Olena Bondarenko said.

In Donetsk on Thursday, more than 5,000 people protested the arrest, calling it a political punishment for his support of former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych during last year's elections.

In Kiev, lawmakers from Yanukovych's Party of Regions blocked the rostrum of the 450-seat parliament on Thursday until other lawmakers agreed to debate Kolesnikov's case.

The authorities, however, said the charges against Kolesnikov had nothing to do with politics.

Prosecutor General Svyatoslav Piskin told lawmakers Thursday that Kolesnikov was detained on charges of extortion, abuse of power, fraud and conspiracy to commit murder.

Interior Minister Yury Lutsenko said that investigators had accused Kolesnikov of involvement in plotting three assassination attempts in the Donetsk region.

"That isn't politics, that's gangsterism," Lutsenko said. He said without elaborating that "other prominent officials of the Donetsk region might be detained in future."

On Wednesday, Yanukovych had joined about 20 lawmakers in a rally outside the Prosecutor General's Office in central Kiev, demanding information about Kolesnikov.