Man Dies as Separatist Protest Turns Ugly in Crimea

Image: Pro-Russian protesters, right, clash with Crimean Tatars
Pro-Russian protesters, right, clash with Crimean Tatars in front of a local government building in Simferopol, Crimea, Ukraine, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014. More than 10,000 Muslim Tatars rallied in support of the interim government. That group clashed with a smaller pro-Russian rally nearby. Fistfights broke out between pro- and anti-Russian demonstrators in Ukraine's strategic Crimea region on Wednesday as Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered massive military exercises just across the border.Darko Vojinovic / AP

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Scuffles between pro-Western and pro-Russian demonstrators in southern Ukraine left one person dead and almost a dozen more injured Wednesday, officials said.

Some 20,000 people - mostly ethnic Tartars - turned out in Simferopol, the capital of the Crimea region, in support of Ukraine's interim government.

These were met by a smaller group of pro-Russian protesters, and despite the efforts of police and their leaders the groups attacked each other with stones, bottles and punches, according to a report by Reuters.

Pro-Russian protesters, left, clash with Crimean Tatars in front of a local government building in Simferopol, Crimea, on Wednesday.Darko Vojinovic / AP

BBC journalist Daniel Sandford was reporting in the city and tweeted that he saw a man in his 50s died after the Tartars surged forward.

The Ukrainian health ministry said in a statement that one person had died of a heart attack.

Most people in Crimea identify themselves as Russian and Russian-speaking and the region is home to Russia’s Black Sea naval base. The pro-European protesters largely comprised Muslim Tartars, an ethnic group that was brutally oppressed by Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union and deported to remote parts of Russia.

Tensions have been simmering in the region for days. An armored personnel carrier and two trucks full of Russian troops made a rare appearance on the streets of Sevastopol, another Crimean city, on Tuesday, according to The Associated Press.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.