Dozens of armed men have seized the regional government administration building and parliament in Ukraine's southern Crimea region, where pro-Russian demonstrators have faced off against rival protesters
Some 50 gunmen are occupying the buildings in the city of Simferopol since early morning, the press secretary to the head of the region told CNN on Thursday.
A Russian flag is flying over the parliament building, said Violetta Limona, press secretary to Crimea premier Anatolii Mohyliov.
She added parliament and government employees were told to stay away from the buildings as Mohyliov tried to negotate with the gunmen.
The men, however, refused to listen, sayig he didn't have the authority, said Refat Chubarov, a member of the Crimean Parliament.
Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said he has ordered police in the country to be prepared.
"Order has been issued to create a cordon around the Parliament in Crimea, and to avoid shooting and violence," he posted on his Facebook page.
Tensions in the Crimea region have simmered since the overthrow of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych last week. Scuffles broke out on Wednesday as the mood soured among the thousands rallying in front of the Crimean parliament building.
One group waved Ukrainian flags and shouted "Crimea is not Russia," while the other held Russian flags aloft and shouted "Crimea is Russia," images broadcast by Crimean TV channel ATR showed. As the crowd became more agitated, a line of police moved in to divide the groups.
Local leaders sought to calm the mood, urging the protesters to go home and resist provocations.
The demonstrations signal the broad divide between those who support what is going on in Kiev, where the new government is leaning toward the West, and those who back Russia's continued influence in Crimea and across Ukraine.