Pro-Russian rally in Crimea decries Kiev ‘bandits’

A Russian armored personnel carrier is driven on a street in Sevastopol, Ukraine’s Black Sea Port that hosts a major Russian navy base Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014. Tensions were building up in the Crimea, where ethnic Russians who make the majority of the local population are deeply suspicious of the new Ukrainian authorities who replaced fugitive Russia-backed President Viktor Yanukovych. (AP Photo/Andrew Lubimov)

A Russian armored personnel carrier is driven on a street in Sevastopol, Ukraine’s Black Sea Port that hosts a major Russian navy base Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014. Tensions were building up in the Crimea, where ethnic Russians who make the majority of the local population are deeply suspicious of the new Ukrainian authorities who replaced fugitive Russia-backed President Viktor Yanukovych. (AP Photo/Andrew Lubimov)

Pro-Russian protesters gathered in front of city hall in the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Sevastopol in the Crimea, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has strongly condemned the new authorities, saying Monday they came to power as a result of an “armed mutiny” and their legitimacy is causing “big doubts.” Tensions, meanwhile, have been mounting in Crimea in southern Ukraine. Russia maintains a large naval base in Sevastopol that has strained relations between the countries for two decades. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

Leonid Slutsky, senior Russian lawmaker, speaks during a press conference in Simferopol, Crimea, Ukraine, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014. Slutsky, who traveled between the Crimea and Moscow this week, said Tuesday that the Russian parliament may back handing out more Russian passports to Russian-speaking Ukrainians and pledged that Russia will step in to protect compatriots there if their lives are in danger. His strong statement that contrasted with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s pledge that Russia won’t interfere in the Ukrainian affairs probably reflected the uncertainty in the Kremlin about how to deal with its neighbor’s tumultuous political crisis. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

A Russian Army officer, back to camera, helps an armored personnel carrier drive on a street in Sevastopol, Ukraine’s Black Sea Port that hosts a major Russian navy base Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014. Tensions were building up in the Crimea, where ethnic Russians who make the majority of the local population are deeply suspicious of the new Ukrainian authorities who replaced fugitive Russia-backed President Viktor Yanukovych. (AP Photo/Andrew Lubimov)

Pro-Russian protesters gather in front of a local government building in Simferopol, Crimea, Ukraine, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has strongly condemned the new authorities, saying Monday they came to power as a result of an “armed mutiny” and their legitimacy is causing “big doubts.” Tensions, meanwhile, have been mounting in Crimea in southern Ukraine. Russia maintains a large naval base in Sevastopol that has strained relations between the countries for two decades. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

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SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine (AP) — Dozens of pro-Russian protesters rallied Tuesday in the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea against “the bandits” in Kiev who are trying to form a new government — with some even speaking of secession. A lawmaker from Russia stoked their passions further by promising them that Russia will protect them.

As a Russian flag flew Tuesday in front of the city council building in Sevastopol — a key Crimean port where Russia’s Black Sea Fleet is based — an armored Russian personnel carrier and two trucks full of troops made a rare appearance on the streets of the city.

The Crimean Peninsula — a pro-Russian region about the size of Massachusetts or Belgium — is a tinder pot in the making.

Protesters had torn down the Ukrainian flag a day ago, pleading with Moscow to protect them from the new authorities in Ukraine who have forced President Viktor Yanukovych to flee Kiev, the capital, and go into hiding.

“Bandits have come to power,” said Vyacheslav Tokarev, a 39-year-old construction worker in Sevastopol. “I’m ready to take arms to fight the fascists who have seized power in Kiev.”

Yanukovych’s whereabouts are unknown but he was last reportedly seen in the Crimea. Law enforcement agencies have issued an arrest warrant for Yanukovych over the killing of 82 people, mainly protesters, last week in the bloodiest violence in Ukraine’s post-Soviet history.

Chanting “Russia, save us!” the protesters gathered for a third day before administrative buildings in Sevastopol and in other Crimean cities. The protests Sunday numbered in the thousands.

“We won’t allow them to wipe their feet on us,” protester Anatoly Mareta said in Sevastopol, wearing the colors of the Russian flag on his arm. “Only Russia will be able to protect the Crimea.”

“I hope for the Ossetian way,” he said, referring to the brief but fierce 2008 Russian-Georgian war in which Russian tanks and troops helped the separatist provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia to break free of Georgian control. Russia has recognized both as independence states, but few other nations have.

Russia, which has thousands of Black Sea Fleet seamen at its base in Sevastopol, so far has refrained from any sharp moves in Ukraine’s political turmoil but could be drawn into the fray if there are confrontations between Crimean population and supporters of the new authorities.

The open movement of Russian military vehicles — normally avoided in Sevastopol per Ukrainian request — was seen as a reflection of the tensions gripping the city.

A senior Russian lawmaker, meanwhile, promised protesters that Russia will protect its Russian-speaking compatriots in Ukraine.

“If lives and health of our compatriots are in danger, we won’t stay aside,” Leonid Slutsky told activists in Simferopol, the regional capital of Crimea.

Slutsky, who heads a parliamentary committee in charge of relations with other ex-Soviet republics, also promised that the Russian parliament is considering a bill to offer Crimea residents and others in Ukraine a quick way of getting Russian citizenship.

He also declared that Yanukovych remains the only legitimate leader of Ukraine, adding there is a “big question mark” over the legitimacy of the decisions made by the Ukrainian parliament since

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