Dozens of pro-Russian protesters rallied Tuesday in the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea against "the bandits" in Kyiv who are trying to form a new government — with some even speaking of secession. A lawmaker from Russia stoked their passions further by promising them that Russia will protect them.
As a Russian flag flew Tuesday in front of the city council building in Sevastopol — a key Crimean port where Russia's Black Sea Fleet is based — an armoured Russian personnel carrier and two trucks full of troops made a rare appearance on the streets of the city.
The Crimean Peninsula — a pro-Russian region about the size of Massachusetts or Belgium — is a tinder pot in the making.
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Protesters had torn down the Ukrainian flag a day ago, pleading with Moscow to protect them from the new authorities in Ukraine who have forced President Viktor Yanukovych to flee Kyiv, the capital, and go into hiding.
"Bandits have come to power," said Vyacheslav Tokarev, a 39-year-old construction worker in Sevastopol. "I'm ready to take arms to fight the fascists who have seized power in Kyiv."
Earlier on Tuesday the country's parliament voted to send Yanukovych to be tried for "serious crimes" by the International Criminal Court once he has been captured.
A resolution, overwhelmingly supported by the assembly, linked Yanukovych, who was ousted on Saturday and is on the run, to police violence against protesters which had caused the deaths of more than 100 citizens from Ukraine and other states and injured 2,000.
The resolution said two of Yanukovych's close allies — former interior minister Vitaly Zakharchenko and former prosecutor-general Viktor Pshonka who are also being sought by the authorities — should also be sent for trial at the ICC, which is based in The Hague.
Over the three months of street unrest and anti-government protests, it said, authorities under Yanukovych had systematically abused their power.
Methods of torture, used by police against protesters, included holding activists naked in temperatures of 15 degrees below freezing, it said.
Wanted for 'mass murder'
"Parliament asks the International Criminal Court to hold Viktor Yanukovych and other high-level people criminally responsible for "issuing and carrying out openly criminal orders," it said.
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Oleh Myrny, a deputy of the nationalist Svoboda (Freedom) party, said: "If we don't take this decision, we will not move forward."
A spokesman for the court said on Tuesday it had not received a request from the Ukrainian government to investigate the events leading up to Yanukovych ouster.
"A government can make a declaration accepting the court's jurisdiction for past events," said court spokesman Fadi El Abdallah, adding that it would then be up to the court's prosecutor to decide whether to open an investigation.
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Yanukovych fled Kyiv on Friday night with his chief aide. Ukraine's acting interior minister says Yanukovych is now wanted for "mass murder."
He has travelled to the pro-Russian region of Crimea and other Ukrainian cities since then, the new authorities say, but his precise whereabouts are unknown.
Former aide shot, spokesman says
Andriy Klyuev, a former presidential aide who is said by the new Ukrainian authorities to be on the run with Yanukovych, has been shot in the leg, his spokesman said.
Spokesman Artem Petrenko said a "trusted source" had told him that Klyuev, the head of the presidential administration until Yanukovych was toppled on Saturday, had come under fire twice and was wounded, but his life was not in danger.
Petrenko said by telephone that he had not spoken to Klyuev himself and he did not know where Klyuev was. He also said he did not know whether Klyuev was with Yanukovych, who fled Kyiv on Friday and is wanted by the Ukrainian authorities to face accusations of murder.
Parliament speaker Oleksandr Turchinov, who was named Ukraine's interim leader after Yanukovych fled the capital, said that a new government should be in place by Thursday, instead of Tuesday, as he had earlier indicated.
Turchinov is now nominally in charge of this strategic country of 46 million whose ailing economy faces the risk of default and whose loyalties are sharply torn between Europe and longtime ruler Russia.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has strongly condemned the new authorities, saying Monday they came to power as a result of an "armed mutiny" and their legitimacy is causing "big doubts." "If you consider Kalashnikov-toting people in black masks who are roaming Kyiv to be the government, then it will be hard for us to work with that government," Medvedev said.
The Russian Foreign Ministry criticized the West for turning a blind eye to what Moscow described as the opposition reneging on an agreement signed Friday to form a unity government and aiming to "suppress dissent in various regions of Ukraine with dictatorial and, sometimes, even terrorist methods."
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Russian President Vladimir Putin's position on the turmoil in Ukraine will be crucial to the future of Crimea and Ukraine. In recent days, Putin has spoken to President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other leaders to discuss the Ukrainian crisis.
On Tuesday, Putin summoned top security officials to discuss the situation in Ukraine, but no details of the meeting were released by the Kremlin.
Baird headed to Ukraine
Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird is headed to Ukraine to get a first-hand look at the situation in the troubled country.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Tuesday Baird and a delegation of Ukrainian-Canadian leaders and parliamentarians will travel to Kyiv, the capital and the epicentre of the political unrest that has rocked Ukraine for months.
Harper said Baird will offer Canada's support for efforts to restore democracy in Ukraine.