February 27, 2014 - 11:35 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - Several dozen armed men have stormed and seized the buildings of the legislature and the local government in Ukraine's Crimea region and raised a Russian flag over a barricade, the Associated Press reports.
The men occupying the parliament building in the regional capital, Simferopol, early Thursday, Feb 27, did not come out to voice any demands. They wore black and orange ribbons, a Russian symbol of the victory in World War II. The men also put up a sign saying "Crimea is Russia."
They threw a flash grenade in response to a journalist's questions.
Phone calls to the Crimean legislature rang unanswered, and its website was down. Refat Chubarov, a local leader of the Tatar community, wrote on his Facebook page early Thursday that the two buildings were taken overnight by uniformed men.
Across Ukraine, the divided allegiances between Russia and the West were on full display Wednesday as fistfights broke out between pro- and anti-Russia protesters in the strategic Crimea peninsula. In the regional capital of Simferopol, some 20,000 Muslim Tatars rallying in support of Ukraine's interim leaders clashed with a smaller pro-Russian rally.
Russian President Vladimir Putin put the military on alert for massive exercises involving most of the military units in western Russia, and announced measures to tighten security at the headquarters of Russia's Black Sea Fleet on the peninsula.
The maneuvers will involve some 150,000 troops, 880 tanks, 90 aircraft and 80 navy ships, and are intended to "check the troops' readiness for action in crisis situations that threaten the nation's military security," Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said in remarks carried by Russian news agencies.
The move prompted a sharp rebuke from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who warned Russia against any military intervention in Ukraine.