On vote-eve, rival groups clash again in eastern Ukraine; rallies in Moscow for and against Russian intervention

Ukraine accused Russian forces of invading a village in Crimea on Saturday and vowed to use “all necessary measures” to stop the attack.

The Ukraine foreign ministry said about 80 Russian troops, backed by four helicopter gunships and three armoured combat vehicles, seized the village of Strilkove near the north eastern edge of the Crimean peninsula.

There was no immediate reaction from Russian officials.

If the report is true, the Russian foray may be aimed at taking control of a gas pump station in the area to prevent Ukraine from cutting gas supplies to Crimea, as the latter prepares to vote in a breakaway referendum on Sunday.

Crimea totally depends on Ukraine for its energy and drinking water.

A day before the crucial breakaway vote in Ukraine’s Crimea, deadly clashes again erupted in Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine, while in Moscow tens of thousands rallied for and against Russia’s intervention in Crimea.

Two people were killed and one policeman injured in clashes overnight between pro-Russian activists and Ukrainian far right nationalists in Kharkiv, officials said on Saturday.

The casualties occurred when about a group of about 40 young men from the Right Sector group barricaded themselves in a building and opened fire on a pro-Russian self-defence patrol late on Friday.

Police eventually stormed the building and detained the armed men.

Ukraine’s Interior Ministry admitted on Saturday that the gunmen were from the Right Sector, a neo-Nazi group who had formed a core of militant protesters during violent clashes in Kiev last month, in which nearly 90 people died.

A day earlier a 22-year-old activist of the nationalist Svoboda Party was stabbed to death in Donetsk, also in eastern Ukraine, during clashes between pro-Russian demonstrators and supporters of the new government in Kiev. Twenty-nine people were wounded, authorities said.

Ukraine's Acting President Oleksandr Turchinov on Saturday blamed the violence on “Kremlin agents” who were “organising mass protests in eastern Ukraine.”

Following the clashes in Donetsk the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that the Ukrainian authorities did not control the situation and that Russia reserved the right to protect its compatriots in Ukraine.

Opponents and supporters of Russia’s intervention in Crimea held rival rallies in Moscow on Saturday. Between 20,000 and 30,000 demonstrators marched “For Peace” and against war between Russia and Ukraine. The marchers carried Russian and Ukrainian flags and chanted “Putin is Russia’s enemy” and “Russia without Putin.”

Speakers at the pro-government rally denounced the “fascist coup” in Ukraine and vowed not to allow a “Maidan-style” protests in Russia.

Crimea, where ethnic Russians account for 60 per cent of the population, will be voting on Sunday either for splitting from Ukraine and joining Russia or for staying as part of Ukraine with extended powers.

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