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Warning shots fired to turn monitors back from Crimea

KIEV: Warning shots were fired to prevent an unarmed international military observer mission from entering Ukraine's Russian-occupied Crimea, as new confrontations between Russian and Ukrainian troops raised tension ever higher.

Russia's seizure of the Black Sea peninsula, which began about 10 days ago, has so far been bloodless, but its forces have become increasingly aggressive towards Ukrainian troops, who are trapped in bases and have offered no resistance.

Tempers have grown hotter in the last two days, since the region's pro-Moscow leadership declared it part of Russia and announced a March 16 referendum to confirm it.

A spokeswoman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said no one was hurt when shots were fired to turn back its mission of more than 40 unarmed observers, who have been invited by Kiev but do not have permission from Crimea's pro-Russian separatist regional authorities.

They had been turned back twice before, but this was the first time shots were fired.

Kiev's security council said it had been targeted by hackers in a "massive" denial of service attack designed to cripple its computers. The national news agency was also hit, it said.

President Vladimir Putin declared a week ago that Russia had the right to invade Ukraine to protect Russian citizens, and his parliament has voted to change the law to make it easier to annex territory.

The pro-Moscow authorities have ordered all remaining Ukrainian troop detachments in Crimea to disarm and surrender, but at several locations they have refused to yield.

Overnight, Russian troops drove a truck into a missile defense post in Sevastopol, the home of both their Black Sea Fleet and the Ukrainian navy, and took control of it. A Reuters reporting team at the scene said no one was hurt.

Ukraine's border service said Russian troops had also seized a border guard outpost in the east of the peninsula overnight, kicking the Ukrainian officers and their families out of their apartments in the middle of the night.

"The situation is changed. Tensions are much higher now. You have to go. You can't film here," said a Russian soldier carrying a heavy machinegun, his face covered except for his eyes, at a Ukrainian navy base in Novozernoye.

About 100 armed Russians are keeping watch over the Ukrainians at the base, where a Russian ship has been scuttled at the entrance to keep the Ukrainians from sailing out.

"Things are difficult and the atmosphere has got worse. The Russians threaten us when we go and get food supplies and point their guns at us," said Vadim Filipenko, the Ukrainian deputy commander at the base.

Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said on Saturday Poland had evacuated its consulate in Sevastopol due to "continuing disturbances by Russian forces".

Source: Reuters

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