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5 Jul, 2008 12:33

Protesters disrupt naval ceremony in Black Sea port

Protesters in Sevastopol on Ukraine's Crimean peninsula have once again torn off the commemorative plaque marking the 90th anniversary of the Ukrainian flag being raised on Black Sea Fleet ships. Sevastopol, which has a predominantly Russian population, i

Residents of Sevastopol clashed with navy personnel at a ceremony to mark the 16th anniversary of Ukraine's Black Sea Fleet. Violence broke out as Ukrainian naval officers were fixing a commemorative plaque to a central pier despite protests from the Sevastopol city council.

Protesters broke the police cordon, removed the plate, threw it into the sea and splashed the officers with blue paint.

It's the third time residents have opposed the Navy's commemoration plans.

Until 1992 the Black Sea Fleet was the joint fleet of Russia and Ukraine. In the late 1990s two separate fleets, of Russia and Ukraine respectively were formed. Now around 70% of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet is based on Ukrainian territory.

The naval bases are leased to Russia until 2017, but Ukraine doesn’t want to renew the agreement, although this policy doesn't meet with the approval of everyone in the Crimea.

The Ukrainian Communist Party claims it has gathered a million signatures from the people of Sevastopol in support of providing a permanent base to the Russian Navy. If the petition figures are correct, it means every second Crimean is in favour of keeping the Russian fleet.