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Ukraine

Crimea releases Ukrainian navy commander

Authorities in Crimea have released the head of Ukraine’s navy. The commander had been apprehended - along with several others - by pro-Moscow forces, according to Ukrainian officials.

Ukraine's acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, confirmed on Thursday that the head of Ukraine's navy had been freed in Crimea and would be allowed to leave the region. Authorities in Crimea had detained him and several other people the previous day.

"Rear Admiral Sergei Haiduk was released… along with all the other civilian hostages... seized by Russian soldiers and members of the self-declared authorities of Crimea," Ukraine's interim president, Oleksandr Turchynov, said in a statement.

On Wednesday, Crimean self-defense militias took over Ukraine's navy headquarters in the southwestern port city of Sevastopol. The take-over was completed within several hours and occurred without any reports of violence. Crimean authorities apprehended Rear Admiral Haiduk after he had been driven away from the compound.

Crimean officials declared independence from Ukraine on Monday after the results of the March 16 referendum showed that 96.7 percent of voters wanted to join the Russian Federation. Following the decision, they also said that all remaining institutions on the Black Sea peninsula were property of the Crimean state.

Russia's parliament is due to ratify the treaty which will make Crimea part of the Russian Federation by the end of the week. The decision has prompted sanctions from the EU and the US, which say that the referendum was neither legal nor legitimate. Russian President Vladimir Putin contends that the Black Sea peninsula wants to be reunified with Russia and that he was answering calls to protect ethnic Russians from anti-Moscow sentiments in Ukraine.

Ukraine pulls troops from Crimea

The gradual loss of control over several military bases in Crimea prompted Ukraine to announce a series of measures aimed at protecting its troops, including calling them back to mainland Ukraine.

On Thursday, Ukraine's ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva said there were signs that Moscow was preparing to attack.

"There are indications that Russia is braced to unleash a full-blown intervention on Ukraine's east and south," Ukraine UN ambassador Yurii Klymenko said.

Meanwhile, Reuters news agency reported that Russia planned to increase its military presence in Crimea.

"It will be necessary to develop the military infrastructure on the peninsula so that Crimea would be a worth representative of the Russian Fedeation and be protected against all possible encroachments," Russian Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov was quoted as saying on Thursday.

kms/pfd (AFP, Reuters)

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