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Gunmen Seize Buildings in Ukraine - Valley News Live - KVLY/KXJB - Fargo/Grand Forks

Gunmen Seize Buildings in Ukraine

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Kiev, Ukraine (CNN) -- Dozens of armed men seized the regional government administration building and parliament in Ukraine's southern Crimea region Thursday and raised the Russian flag, in a challenge to the Eastern European country's new leaders.

Crimea, with its ethnic Russian majority, is the last big bastion of opposition to the new political leadership in Kiev after Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych's ouster Saturday.

The incident, coming a day after Russia ordered surprise military exercises on Ukraine's doorstep, has raised fears about the push and pull of opposing allegiances in a country sandwiched between Russia and the European Union.

A broad divide has emerged between those who support what is going on in Kiev -- where parliament was voting on an interim West-leaning government Thursday -- and those who back Russia's continued influence in Crimea and across Ukraine. "I'm concerned about developments in #Crimea. I urge #Russia not to take any action that can escalate tension or create misunderstanding," NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen tweeted Thursday.

In turn, the Russian Foreign Ministry said the Kremlin will "give a tough and uncompromised response to violations of compatriots' rights by foreign states."

It was not immediately known who was occupying the buildings in Simferopol, the regional capital. The head of the region, Premier Anatolii Mohyliov, told CNN the gunmen were refusing to speak with him, telling him he had no authority.

The men, who stormed the building early Thursday morning, had made no demands, and it was not clear what they wanted, he said.

He said there are no civilians in the building and "the situation is under control."

He added that government security forces, which were outside the buildings, would not use force or weapons to take over the buildings. "All police in Ukraine have been ordered to be prepared," acting Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov wrote on his Facebook page. "Orders have been issued to create a cordon around the Parliament in Crimea and to avoid shooting and violence."

A witness, who gave his name only as Maxim, said he saw the armed men run into the building.

"Inside, nobody knows what is going on inside at the moment. We only saw the building being taken over," he said. "When they took over the building, they kicked out police from there. More buses came and around 30 more people came out. They started to bring their bags and the bags had RPG's (anti-tank weapons), there was SVD (sniper rifles), Kalashnikov (assault) rifles, handguns, so these people were fully armed."

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