Ukraine crisis: Armed men seize parliament building in Crimea

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Originally published on February 27, 2014

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Dozens of armed men who appeared to be pro-Russian separatists seized the parliament and other regional government buildings in Crimea, Ukraine on Thursday.

A witness told Reuters that a group of Ukrainians were building barricades at night to protect the parliament building when several dozen gunmen wearing black and orange ribbons, a symbol of Russian victory, used firearms to evict them from the area. Gunshots were heard, but it was not known whether anyone was hurt.

The Russian-speaking intruders entered parliament through the windows and raised a Russian flag alongside the Crimean flag over the building.

About 100 police officers were gathered in front of the parliament, and a similar number of people carrying Russian flags marched up to the building chanting: "Russia, Russia" and holding a sign calling for a Crimean referendum, Reuters reported.

The recent uprisings in Ukraine were triggered by former president Viktor F. Yanukovych's attempt to push the country towards Russia, which illuminated the chasm between the country's pro-European Union west and the east, which prefers closer ties to Russia.

The autonomous Crimean peninsula has an ethnic Russian majority. About 60 percent of its population is ethnic Russian and speaks Russian. Ethnic Ukrainians comprise 24.4 percent of the population. Crimean Tatars make up 12.1 percent.

in Crimea is of paramount strategic importance for Russia, whose Black Sea Fleet is based in Sevastopol. In 2010 Ukraine signed a treaty that allowed Russia to extend its lease on its naval base in the city until 2042.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday put 150,000 troops on high alert for war games along the Ukrainian border. The Kremlin denied the drills had anything to do with the political situation in Ukraine.

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