Activists in Ukraine's Crimea ask Russia to reclaim territory

About 50 protesters gathered in the Crimean capital of Simferopol on Friday, urging Russia to pull out of a friendship agreement with Ukraine and to make a territorial claim on the peninsula.

The organizer of the rally, Valery Podyachy, told the gathering: "We ask Russia to tear up the agreement [on Friendship, Cooperation and Partnership with Ukraine] and to file territorial claims to Ukraine."

The Crimea, which has a predominantly Russian-speaking population, has been the focus of frequent disputes between the Russian and Ukrainian leaderships, over the Russian Black Sea Fleet's lease of the soviet-era Sevastopol naval base.

During the recent conflict between Russia and Georgia that followed Tbilisi's August 8 offensive in breakaway South Ossetia, Ukraine threatened to bar entry to Russian Black Sea fleet vessels that had been deployed near Georgia's coast.

Ukraine's Defense Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov signed instructions on Thursday to implement an earlier presidential decree complicating the rules of deployment for the Black Sea Fleet.

Podyachy, who heads the Sevastopol-Crimea-Russia Popular Front, said: "While Russia sent aid to flood-hit Ukrainian regions, Ukraine failed to help Russia to force Georgia to peace, and took an openly hostile stance."

Ukraine supplied weaponry to President Mikheil Saakashvili's regime that was used to kill Russian peacekeepers, he said.

"Ukraine has proved by its policies that it is not a friend but an enemy to Russia," Podyachy said.

Former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, who grew up in Ukraine, made the Crimean Peninsula - a territory of 26,100 sq km - part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1954. The peninsula was until then a part of the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic.

Since the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union, the Crimea has unsuccessfully sought independence from Ukraine. A 1994 referendum in the Crimea supported demands for a broader autonomy and closer links with Russia.

Relations between Russia and Ukraine have deteriorated recently following Kiev's NATO membership bid and its demand that Russia's Black Sea Fleet withdraw from its naval base in Sevastopol.

[Source: Novosti, Simferopol, 22Aug08]

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