Armed men have raised Russian flags on buildings housing the Crimean government headquarters and its parliament after seizing them Thursday, according to Interfax-Ukraine news agency, which added that the men removed the guards outside these sites without a fight, and marched into the building in combat gear.
According to Reuters, the Ukrainian interior ministry has said that the police are on high alert in the region and that Russia's foreign ministry stated that it would defend the rights of its compatriots and will "uncompromisingly" react to any violation of those rights.
"I have been told that the buildings of parliament and the council of ministers have been occupied by armed men in uniforms that do not bear any recognizable insignia. They have not yet made any demands," Refat Chubarov, a local Tatar leader said on the social networking site Facebook, according to Reuters, which cited Interfax-Ukraine.
There have been confrontations between pro-Russia separatists and Ethnic Tatars, who support Ukraine’s new government, since opposition forces took over Ukraine's government after former President Viktor Yanukovych fled Kiev, following days of bloody protests stemming from his decision to refuse a trade deal with the European Union in favor of a bailout deal with Russia.
After nearly four months of protests against Yanukovych's government ended last week, Crimea has become the site of new protests, raising concerns of separatism. Crimea was transferred to Ukraine from Russia in 1954 by then Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and is the only part of Ukraine where ethnic Russians dominate in numbers, Reuters reported.
Earlier this week Ukraine’s acting President Oleksandr Turchynov had warned of “dangerous signs of separatism” in parts of the country as people had started showing anger over the ouster of Yanukovych, who is now on an international wanted list for “mass murder.”