Ukraine on alert after gunmen seize buildings

Tension escalates between Moscow and Kiev after armed takeover, with Ukraine leader warning against Russian aggression.

Ukraine has warned Russia against “military aggression” after armed men seized government buildings in the Crimea region and raised a Russian flag, with reports also emerging that the ousted Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovich, was being sheltered by Moscow.

The acting Ukraine president, Oleksander Turchynov, told parliament on Thursday he had ordered troops and police to take “all measures” needed to protect Ukranian citizens after the apparent pro-Russian takeover of buildings in the Crimea.

Turchynov’s statement also gave warning that any movement by Russian military forces in the Crimean Black Sea port of Sevastopol, would be considered a “military aggression”.

Those behind the takeovers of parliament buildings came a day after pro and anti-Russian protesters clashed in the region, where the majority of the population is ethnic Russian.

The Ukraine interior minister, Arsen Avakov, said on Thursday that “unknown men armed with automatic and machine guns seized the building of the Crimean government in Simferopol. Interior troops and the entire police force have been put on alert”. The area has been closed off “to prevent bloodshed”, according to news agency AFP.

“Measures have been taken to counter extremist actions and not allow the situation to escalate into an armed confrontation in the centre of the city,” Avakov said.

The US defence secretary, Chuck Hagel, warned of escalation of tension between Ukraine and Russia. Speaking at a NATO meeting in Brussels, he said that the US was watching Russian military movements closely, and urged the country not to take any action on Ukraine that could be misinterpreted “at a time of great tension”.

Former president speaks

Reports also began to emerge on Thursday that Yanukovich was now in Russia. Breaking his five-day silence, he insisted that he was still the head of state, and called the new leaders of Ukraine “illegitimiate”, Russian news organisations have reported.

Al Jazeera’s Rory Challands reported that it was almost certain that Yukanovich was in Russia, and Russia’s state news agency has said that the ousted president will hold a news conference on Friday in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don.

Ukraine’s interim government issued an arrest warrant for Yanukovich, accusing him of being responsible for the deaths of at least 70 protesters on February 21 protests in Kiev. The parliament had voted on Tuesday to send Yanukovich, if captured, to stand trial for “serious crimes” at the International Criminal Court.

The escalation in tension and rhetoric between Russia and Ukraine has steadily increased over the last few months, but the overnight armed takeover was the first such incursion by pro-Russian elements inside Ukraine.

 

The group, in full combat dress but without any markings of affiliation, entered the buildings and removed the guards without a fight, the Interfax-Ukraine news agency quoted sources in parliament as saying.

There has been no formal response from Moscow to the takeover, but Russia’s defence ministry has said its fighter jets were on standby.

The country’s foreign ministry said it would “continue to defend in the international arena the rights of its compatriots, it will strongly and uncompromisingly react when they are violated”.

 

 

 

 

 

Source : Al Jazeera

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