An armed group on Thursday seized parliament and the regional government administration building in Ukraine's southern region of Crimea, ICTV television reported.

"They told me the buildings have been seized by uniformed armed men ... They haven't made any demands yet," Refat Chubarov, a Ukrainian national lawmaker, said.

The leader of the Crimean Tatar minority urged residents in Simferopol - capital of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, where ethnic Russians are in the majority - not to approach the seized buildings, which have been surrounded by police.

The group raised the Russian flag at the buildings, Liberty radio reported, citing witnesses.

"It's still too early to comment on the incident," said lawmaker Andrei Senchenko, whose Fatherland party was one of the political forces instrumental in forcing out President Viktor Yanukovych following deadly protests last week.

Simferopol on Wednesday was the scene of competing pro-Ukrainian and pro-Russian demonstrations near the headquarters of Crimea's parliament, which on Thursday proposed that a referendum be held to expand that region's autonomy.

The Crimea Peninsula, located on the northern coast of the Black Sea, is home to 2 million inhabitants; ethnic Russians make up 60 percent of the population, while 25 percent are ethnic Ukrainians and 12 percent are Crimean Tatars.

The unrest in Crimea poses an immediate challenge for Ukraine's new authorities, including new Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who was approved by parliament on Thursday.

The crisis that led to Yanukovych's ouster erupted at the end of November, when the Ukrainian president backed away from plans to ink a pact with the European Union and instead signed a $15 billion financial-aid package with Russia.

Protesters took to the streets of Kiev and began occupying administrative buildings, prompting Ukraine's parliament, then controlled by Yanukovych's allies, to pass a package of laws on Jan. 16 restricting freedom of assembly, freedom of speech and other basic rights.

Violent clashes pitting demonstrators and riot police broke out three days later and left six dead and hundreds wounded.

Ukrainian officials and opposition leaders began seeking a negotiated solution to the crisis in the wake of the bloodshed.

The talks led to the resignation of Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and the repeal of the controversial anti-protest laws.

Yanukovych, whose whereabouts is currently unknown, reportedly left Kiev late Friday for his support base in Ukraine's generally pro-Russian eastern region.

He departed after agreeing to call early presidential elections in a bid to put an end to bloody street battles in Kiev that pit pro-EU protesters against the security forces and left dozens dead.

After Yanukovych left the city, many of his former allies in parliament turned against him and helped oust him from power and release his arch-rival, the Fatherland's Yulia Tymoshemko, from prison.

She is a potential candidate in the presidential election, which has been moved up to May 25.

The new Ukrainian authorities have requested that an international arrest warrant be issued for Yanukovych, who, according to unofficial reports, has been granted asylum in Russia.

The east-west tensions also have been ratcheted up by Russia's move to put fighter jets on combat alert along its border with Ukraine. EFE