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NATO arguments spark clashes in Ukraine's Crimea

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Pro- and anti-NATO demonstrators clashed Thursday at the southern Ukrainian port of Feodosia as tension mounts over a U.S. naval ship docked at the port and Ukraine's intention to join the alliance.

KIEV, June 8 (RIA Novosti) - Pro- and anti-NATO demonstrators clashed Thursday at the southern Ukrainian port of Feodosia as tension mounts over a U.S. naval ship docked at the port and Ukraine's intention to join the alliance.

Demonstrators in the largely Russian-speaking Crimea region, which is home to Russia's Black Sea Fleet, have been blockading a U.S. vessel, the Advantage, moored at Feodosia since late May ahead of military exercises slated to start late July that are seen by many as part of Ukraine's bid to join NATO.

Ukraine's Channel Five reported that anti-NATO demonstrators, organized by the pro-Russian opposition Party of Regions, outnumbered a pro-NATO group mustered by the Pora public movement, and physically ousted them.

Channel Five said it was the first clash between demonstrators since anti-NATO demonstrations had started.

Party of Regions leader Viktor Yanukovych said his party, which won elections in March but was unable to form a parliamentary majority, would not support President Viktor Yushchenko's decree granting access to foreign military detachments for joint military exercises in Ukraine at the next session of the Supreme Rada.

"Our faction will not support the president's decision," Yanukovych said.

A deputy from Feodosia's city council said that on Thursday anti-NATO activists had managed to penetrate the port area and open containers brought by the American vessel.

"Today we managed to penetrate the port area and open several containers, where we discovered at least 30 metric tons of weapons and fuses," Borys Stepanov said.

The U.S. Embassy to Ukraine said earlier said that the Advantage had brought to the Crimea medical equipment and arms necessary for the Sea Breeze-2006 exercises. The weapons are routinely used during military training exercises by participating countries, the embassy added.

Sea Breeze is a multinational sea exercise hosted by Ukraine and the U.S. and designed to improve cooperation and coordination between countries in the Black Sea Region that was scheduled to start on July 18. The embassy added that it was not a NATO-sponsored exercise.

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