Ukraine crisis deepens as Russia scrambles jets, gunmen storm buildings

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A crowd of pro-Russian protesters - some with a giant Russian flag - gathered outside the parliament building in Simferopol after it was seized by armed men
The US has called for all sides to "step back and avoid any kind of provocations" amid heightened tensions in Ukraine\’s Crimea region. Secretary of State John Kerry said he had spoken to his Russian counterpart who promised to respect Ukraine\’s "territorial integrity". But he warned Moscow needed to back up its words with actions.
Russia sent fighter jets to patrol its border with Ukraine on Thursday, as fast-paced developments threatened to undermine the new Ukrainian government in Kyiv.
Reports say that up to 50 armed men briefly entered the main airport of Simferopol, the capital of the Crimean region, as Ukraine plunges deeper into crisis.
The armed men carrying Russian navy flags entered the airport overnight after arriving in lorries, the reports said.
One witness source told AFP news agency that armed men appeared to be in control of the airport early on Friday morning.
The incident followed a day of dramatic developments with pro-Russian armed men taking over government buildings in Simferopol and raising a Russian flag.
Ukraine warned Russia on Thursday against "military aggression" amid reports that Viktor Yanukovich, the deposed Ukrainian president, was being sheltered by Russia.
Ukraine\’s acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, on Thursday warned the military leadership of the Sevastopol-based Russian Black Sea Fleet that any movements of Russian forces outside the base would be considered "military aggression."
For its part, Crimea\’s parliament, whose building was among those seized by pro-Russian gunmen, voted Thursday to dismiss the region\’s government and to hold a referendum to determine Crimea\’s status in Ukraine. The referendum is set for May 25, the same day Ukraine will hold a presidential election.
Ethnic Russians account for 58 percent of Crimea\’s population.
Meanwhile, Russian news agencies reported that Moscow had granted ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych\’s request for personal security "on Russian territory," but provided no other details. They also reported that  Yanukovych will hold a press conference Friday in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don.
In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney called on Russia to respect Ukraine\’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and avoid "provocative" actions.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday he had spoken to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who assured him that large-scale Russian military exercises near the Ukrainian border were previously scheduled and not connected to the unrest in Ukraine. 
Still, Kerry said during a news conference with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier that "everybody needs to step back and avoid provocations."
Earlier Friday, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Moscow to not take any action on Ukraine that could be misinterpreted.
In Kyiv, the parliament approved former economic minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk as the country\’s new prime minister. He accused the Yanukovych government of stealing vast sums from state coffers, leaving the country in severe financial straits.
 Yatsenyuk said $70 billion in Ukrainian government money had been sent to offshore accounts over the last three years and that $37 billion of credit it had received has disappeared.
He said, "I want to report to you. The state treasury has been robbed and is empty."
Yanukovych released a statement to Russian news agencies from an undisclosed location saying that he still considers himself Ukraine\’s head of state. He has not been seen in public since Saturday, when Ukraine\’s parliament voted to dismiss him and set early elections for May 25. 
Crimea has been the scene of confrontations between supporters of Ukraine\’s new government and pro-Russia activists. The region is mainly made up of Russian speakers who support Moscow but is also home to Ukrainians and to minority Muslim Tatars who are generally anti-Russia. 
Yatsenyuk is a pro-Western former foreign minister and economy minister. One of his first major jobs would be preventing the Ukrainian economy from collapse.
The White House says it strongly supports Ukrainian leaders as they work to form a multiparty government to represent all Ukrainians. It calls a broad-based government committed to reconciliation the necessary foundation for international aid.
Secretary of State John Kerry says the U.S. is considering $1 billion in loan guarantees for Ukraine.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the military exercises launched Wednesday were to check "readiness to deal with crisis situations that threaten the nation\’s military security." 
Anti-government demonstrations erupted three months ago in Ukraine when   Yanukovych backed out of a European Union trade deal in favor of economic aid from Russia. The violence escalated last week, leaving nearly 100 people dead.
Ukraine\’s interim leaders have dissolved an elite security force accused of carrying out some of those deadly attacks on protesters.
Source: VOA and agencies

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