Protests against the arrival of US and NATO military equipment are continuing on Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.The demonstrators have accused the military alliance of interfering in the country’s internal affairs. The outcry was prompted by the arrival earlier this week at the port of Feodosiya of a group of US Marines, due to make preparations for NATO exercises this summer. Ukrainian President Viktor Yuschenko is pushing for NATO membership, but has met with resistance, particularly in provinces with a strong Russian heritage. Yuschenko told the House that principles that regulate relations between Ukraine and NATO would not be changed by political decisions taken by regional parliaments. Earlier in the day the administration in the Crimea declared the Black Sea area a “NATO-free territory”. “I absolutely agree that the military and Cabinet violated the Constitution. They simply changed the constitution and let foreign troops get into Ukrainian territory. But nobody gave them this right,” said deputy Sergei Velishansky. The Crimean Peninsula is of crucial naval importance and is home to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. Ukraine has six exercises planned this year, including the Sea Breeze manoeuvres, in which 17 nations, including the US, planned to participate. Five hundred military personnel will be involved in simulated peacekeeping operations on land and sea and the Crimea would serve as the staging ground. NATO officials refused to comment on either the protest or the operation.