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KIEV (Reuters) - Ukrainian authorities are failing to respond adequately to increasing cases of attacks and intimidation by radical groups, human rights groups said on Thursday.

In an open letter to Interior Minister Arsen Avakov and General Prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko, the organisations rebuked the authorities for police inaction in response to violence against ethnic minorities, women's rights activists and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

"It is no surprise that the number of violent attacks and threats by such groups is growing, as the inadequate response from the authorities sends a message that such acts are tolerated," said representatives of Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Front Line Defenders and Freedom House.

"We urge you to take effective action to prevent and stop acts that promote hatred and discrimination and hold those responsible to account."

A spokesman for the General Prosecutor declined comment while the Interior Ministry did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

The criticism is embarrassing for the Ukrainian authorities, who are keen to counter claims by the Kremlin and Russian media that far-right and extreme nationalist groups are prevalent in Ukraine.

Since the Western-backed leadership came to power in 2014, Ukraine has received billions of dollars in financial aid, including from the European Union, partly in exchange for commitments to conform to international democratic and human rights standards.

But the rights organisations said police have rarely launched investigations nor have perpetrators been prosecuted following at least two dozen violent attacks or threats by radical groups since the start of 2018.

The letter highlights a number of incidents, including an attack on a Roma settlement in April, where masked men chased women and small children with rocks and pepper spray after burning down their tents.

Elsewhere, around 50 members of radical groups disrupted a 'Festival of Equality' in the western city of Chernivtsi in May.

"The police then led the event's organizers and participants outside on the pretext that there was a bomb threat, where assailants attacked them by throwing heavy objects, including hammers, at them," the letter said.

"We have no information about whether an investigation into this incident has been launched."

(Reporting by Alessandra Prentice; editing by David Stamp)

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Reuters