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Local leader: Armed men have seized government buildings in Crimea

Russian flag flying over both buildings in the regional capital

Russian newspaper reporting that Moscow is sheltering fugitive Ukrainian President
Darko Vojinovic/ Associated Press

Dozens of heavily armed gunmen seized control of local government buildings in Ukraine's Crimea region early Thursday and raised the Russian flag, mirroring the three-month protest movement that drove Ukraine's pro-Russian president into hiding last week.

The moves escalated tensions in Ukraine, whose population is divided in loyalties between Russia and the West. 

Ukraine's acting president has warned Russian forces not to leave their naval base in the Crimea region after gunmen seized government buildings in the regional capital.

President Oleksandr Turchynov says any movements of troops, especially with troops outside that territory will be considered military aggression.

Russia maintains a large naval base in southern Crimea that has strained relations between the countries for two decades.

Meanwhile, a respected Russian newspaper is reporting that Moscow is sheltering fugitive Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

In a statement published by three Russian news agencies, the fugitive president said he is asking Russia's protection from "extremists'' and that he still considers himself to be Ukraine's legitimate leader. An unnamed Russian official said that his request was "satisfied in the territory of Russia,'' the Russian agencies said.

In Kyiv, lawmakers were expected to approve the new government that will face the hugely complicated task of restoring stability in a country that is not only deeply divided politically but on the verge of financial collapse.

Protest leaders said Wednesday that they would propose Arseniy Yatsenyuk as the country's new prime minister. The 39-year-old served as economy minister, foreign minister and parliamentary speaker before Yanukovych took office in 2010, and is widely viewed as a technocratic reformer who enjoys the support of the U.S.

Yanukovych fled after riot police attacked protesters in Kyiv's central square, killing more than 80 people, and European and Russian officials intervened. He has not been seen publicly since Saturday, when he said he remained the legitimately elected president, a position that has been backed by Russia.

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