Pro-Russian armed men on Thursday seized control of parliament and government buildings in the Ukrainian region of Crimea, raising Russian flags above them, officials said.
Up to 50 men with weapons marched into the buildings during the night, hoisted Russian flags on top and were blocking government workers from entering, Crimean Prime Minister Anatoliy Mohilyov told.
Local authorities were preparing to “take measures”, Mohilyov said without adding any more details.
“We ask government workers not to come to work today,” the regional government said in a statement.
Dozens of men in full combat dress but without any markings of affiliation marched into the government and parliament buildings earlier in the morning and removed the guards without any fight, the Interfax-Ukraine news agency quoted sources in parliament as saying.
It said that they gained entrance to the building complex by firing on the glass doors but no-one was hurt.
The move came amid concerns of growing separatism on the overwhelmingly pro-Russian peninsula on the Black Sea after the ousting of pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovych.
The head of the local assembly for Crimea’s Muslim Tatar minority — which is fearful of any pro-Russian separatist moves — confirmed that the buildings had been seized.
“I was told that the buildings of the Crimean Verkhovna Rada (parliament) and the Crimean Council of Ministers (government) are occupied by armed men in uniform without identification signs,” Refat Chubarov wrote on Facebook.
“They have not put forward any demands yet.”
Unconfirmed news reports said that the buildings were being controlled by Russian-speaking militia groups formed by the local population.
Many in Crimea, which is overwhelmingly Russian rather than Ukrainian speaking, strongly oppose the takeover of Ukraine by pro-EU and anti-Kremlin forces.