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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ukrainians Keep Up Anti-NATO Protest

KIEV -- Anti-NATO protesters rallied for a fourth day on Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula on Thursday as the United States stressed it had no plans to build a military base in Ukraine.

The demonstrations were sparked by the arrival over the weekend of the USS Advantage in the Crimean port of Feodosiya to deliver construction equipment and supplies to help improve living conditions at a Ukrainian military training base. Michel Duray, NATO's representative in Ukraine, said the materials included things such as shower equipment and tents.

The ship, a merchant vessel leased by the U.S. military, also dropped off equipment to be used in multinational training exercises set to begin in mid-July. The U.S. Embassy in Kiev said a "small group" of Americans also arrived to watch the supplies.

NTN television showed about 100 people rallying under Communist Party and Russian flags and carrying banners that read "No NATO in Crimea." One district council in Crimea, meanwhile, voted to declare itself a NATO-free zone.

Communists and a small pro-Russian party with strong support in largely Russian-speaking Crimea, accused the government of violating the law by allowing a foreign military vessel to enter the port without prior permission from parliament. They also alleged that the United States or NATO was seeking a permanent presence on the Black Sea peninsula -- an allegation denied by U.S. Embassy spokesman Brent Byers.

"There are no plans to put any kind of military base in Ukraine -- not U.S., not NATO," Byers said.

The U.S. ship left after dropping off the supplies.

"NATO has no intention of putting any bases here -- even the concept of a NATO base doesn't mean anything, there is no such thing," Duray said. "People have been overcome by lies and emotions."

NATO said it is not organizing the Sea Breeze exercise, which is held annually, but the exercise is linked to its Partnership for Peace program.

Deputy Prosecutor General Mykola Holomsha said a preliminary investigation found the ship's arrival violated no laws, the Unian news agency reported. Holomsha said parliamentary approval is only needed for armed ships and that Ukrainian law permitted the presence of foreign military units on its territory in connection with Partnership for Peace.

Crimea has a large ethnic Russian population and its main port, Sevastopol -- 160 kilometers from Feodosiya -- is home to both the Russian and Ukrainian Black Sea fleets.

Ukraine's pro-Western government has made NATO membership a top goal despite widespread opposition in this nation of 47 million, where many fear membership would destroy relations with Russia.