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‘We control everything’: Crimea breaks ties with Ukraine

Colonel Yuri Mamchur, commander of the Ukrainian garrison at the Belbek air base, leads his men to the base, outside Sevastopol, Ukraine, on Tuesday, March 4, 2014. Russian troops, who had taken control over Belbek airbase, fired warning shots in the air as around 300 Ukrainian officers marched towards them to demand their jobs back.

Ivan Sekretarev/AP

Crimea's new Prime Minister says he is taking control of all military forces and government departments in the territory, declaring an official break with Kiev.

In a press conference Tuesday Sergey Aksenov, who was named Prime Minister last week, said the new government in Kiev was illegal and "mad".

"We don't trust the Kiev government and we asked help from the Russian federation to help us with the situation in Crimea," he said. "We control everything, every activity."

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He asked all Ukrainian military forces in Crimea to lay down their arms and leave their bases.

Mr. Aksenov said Crimea will form its own military and he urged Ukrainian soldiers to join, promising them higher wages. If they don't join, Mr. Aksenov said they will face legal action. "We control all military forces in Ukraine," he said.

The Prime Minster said the economic situation in Crimea was stable and that all government employee wages and social benefits were being paid. However he would not say where the money to support the government had come from.

When asked about the legality of his position, Mr. Aksenov said he had been voted prime minister by Crimean members of parliament. He said the government in Kiev came to power much the same way. Mr. Aksenov was the speaker of the Crimean parliament and leads a pro-Russian party (the majority of people in Crimea are Russian-speaking).

He said Crimea's new government would protect the rights of the territory's Tatar population, a minority group that is largely Muslim and is against Russian control over Crimea.

He also said he believed Viktor Yanukovych was still the president of Ukraine but he had not spoken with him. Mr. Yanukovych left Ukraine last week after being removed from power by the country's parliament. The Ukrainian government has issued a warrant for his arrest.

Mr. Aksenov has also not spoken with Russian President Vladimir Putin but hopes to soon.

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The Crimean parliament plans to hold a referendum on separation in March.

When asked if Crimea was now a separate country he said that will be determined by the referendum. He had this message for Canada and other Western nations: "You are welcome to come to Crimea. Come here and relax."

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