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Code: 266161
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Date: Saturday, March 15, 2014
Ukraine 'Repels Attempted Russian Incursion'
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Ukraine says its aircraft and paratroops have stopped an attempt by Russian forces to enter a strip of land near Crimea.

Russian troops tried to move in on Arbatskaya Strelka, which is part of the Kherson region, but were repelled, according to the defence ministry.

It is a strip of land about 70 miles long running parallel to the east of Crimea, which is now controlled by Russian forces.

Tensions are high ahead of Sunday's controversial referendum on whether Crimea should break away from Ukraine.

Earlier, two people were shot dead in clashes between pro-Kiev and pro-Moscow activists in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv.

Ukraine’s interim interior minister said the two men, aged 20 and 31, were killed and several others wounded during the late-night gun battle.

Arsen Avakov claimed around 30 people "from both sides" were arrested, and he accused Russian activists of provoking the clashes.

Ukraine has accused "Kremlin agents" of stoking violence in Russian-speaking cities and urged people not to be goaded into fighting back they could be used by Moscow as a precursor for further incursions.

The unrest has escalated in the Russian-speaking east of the country since Moscow’s military invention in Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula following the ousting of Kremlin ally, President Viktor Yanukoych last month.

The referendum on Crimea joining the Russian Federation further ratcheted up the tensions.

Russia has vetoed a Western-backed resolution at the UN condemning the Crimea referendum but China abstained, isolating Moscow further on the crisis.

A day ahead of the planned vote, tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Moscow to protest against Russian intervention.

Protesters, waving Ukrainian flags, called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to withdraw troops from Crimea.

An estimated 15,000 people staged a rival rally nearby in support of Mr Putin.

The clashes in Kharkiv were the second to turn fatal this week, after one person was killed and at least 17 wounded in the eastern city of Donetsk on Thursday.

Friday’s gun battle reportedly broke out after pro-Russian activists attempted to storm the headquarters of a Ukrainian nationalist group.

Russian state news agency Itar Tass said the shots were fired from the offices of the far-right group, Right Sector.

It said the nationalists later surrendered.

The Russian Foreign Ministry's special representative for human rights, Konstantin Dolgov, responded to the fatalities by calling on Ukraine to outlaw all ultra-nationalist groups.

Using the Russian spelling of Kharkiv, Mr Dolgov wrote on Twitter: "Arresting neo-fascists in Kharkov should mark the beginning of large-scale activities to neutralise and punish the extremists who are getting out of hand.”

Russian media is increasingly referring to nationalist groups such as Right Sector to illustrate an apparent fascist threat to Russians in eastern Ukraine.

Moscow justified last week’s military occupation of Crimea by saying it wished to protect ethnic Russians and  has not ruled out moving its troops further afield to protect its compatriots.

America and the European Union have warned Russia of sanctions, including asset freezes and travel bans unless the vote is called off.

Russia's foreign minister Sergey Lavrov has said such measures would be a "counter-productive instrument".

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