Leader of Russian separatists fighting in east Ukraine is killed when explosion rips through cafe 

The leader of the Russia-backed separatists fighting in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region has reportedly been killed in an explosion.

Rebel news agency DAN said the explosion that killed Alexander Zakharchenko, 42, tore through a cafe in the region’s principal city.

Zakharchenko was prime minister of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, which along with a separatist republic in neighbouring Luhansk has fought Ukrainian forces since 2014.

More than 10,000 people have died in the conflict.

The rebellion in Donetsk and Luhansk arose soon after pro-Russia Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych was driven from power amid mass protests in February 2014. Russian-speakers predominate in those regions, and separatist sentiment skyrocketed.

Encouraged by Russia’s annexation of Crimea, which also came after Mr Yanukovych was ousted, rebel leaders initially hoped their regions would be absorbed by Russia as well.

Zakharchenko became prime minister of the DPR in August 2014.

The cafe hit by the explosion, named Separ, was separatist-themed and had camouflage netting hanging from its eaves, according to recent photographs.

It was not immediately clear if a bomb caused the blast or it resulted from something else. Russia’s Interfax news agency cited local sources as saying suspects had been detained, but there was no official confirmation.

Denis Pushilin, the speaker of the separatists’ parliament, blamed Ukrainian forces for the explosion, calling it “the latest aggression from the Ukrainian side”, according to DAN.

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