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Published: Saturday May 10, 2014 MYT 3:55:02 PM
Updated: Saturday May 10, 2014 MYT 3:56:27 PM

Militants hold Red Cross workers for seven hours in east Ukraine

KIEV (Reuters) - Pro-Russian militants held several Red Cross workers hostage for seven hours in the rebel eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, severely beating one before freeing them in Saturday's early hours, a local Red Cross official said.

A spokesman for the self-styled "Donetsk People's Republic", which is holding a referendum on Sunday on breaking with Kiev, said the workers had been detained on Friday evening by rebel activists on suspicion of espionage.

He could not clarify the nature of the accusations levelled against them or say where they had been held.

The Red Cross official gave no further details, though the internet newspaper Novosti Donbassa said a Frenchman had been among seven held by activists who entered the Red Cross building in Donetsk. There was no confirmation of this.

"They were released at two o'clock. One had been heavily beaten," Red Cross official Irina Tsaryuk told Reuters. He was now in hospital. Red Cross headquarters in Geneva said simply that there had been "some kind of incident last night".

Novosti Donbassa said the hostage takers had also seized large stores of medicine from the Donetsk office.

The Red Cross website said medication had been delivered on May 7 to Donetsk head office for distribution in the region, where there has been heavy fighting in recent days between pro-Russian militants and Ukrainian security forces.

(Reporting by Aleksander Vasovic and Pavel Polityuk; Writing by Ralph Boulton; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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