After Ukraine protest, radical group eyes power

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In this photo taken Tuesday, March 11, 2014, a member of the Right Sector stands alongside a donation box outside a store which the group is occupying near Kiev’s Independence Square, Ukraine. Several weeks after mass protests ousted Russian-leaning President Viktor Yanukovych, hundreds of members of the radical ultranationalist group, the Right Sector, continue to patrol central streets and occupy buildings in Kiev, while some more radical members have burst into regional government offices, brandishing rifles, harassing bureaucrats and even punching a prosecutor. (AP Photo/David Azia)

In this photo taken Tuesday, March 11, 2014, a member of the Right Sector stands alongside a donation box outside a store which the group is occupying near Kiev’s Independence Square, Ukraine. Several weeks after mass protests ousted Russian-leaning President Viktor Yanukovych, hundreds of members of the radical ultranationalist group, the Right Sector, continue to patrol central streets and occupy buildings in Kiev, while some more radical members have burst into regional government offices, brandishing rifles, harassing bureaucrats and even punching a prosecutor. (AP Photo/David Azia)

In this photo taken Friday, March 7, 2014, a Right Sector member stands guard next to elevators on the ground floor of the Dnipro hotel near the Independence Square, Kiev, Ukraine. The vocal and well-armed organization presents a headache for the new Ukrainian leadership with its armed presence in the streets, its radical nationalist rhetoric and its antics. (AP Photo/David Azia)

In this photo taken Friday, March 7, 2014, Andriy Tarasenko, a spokesman for the Right Sector, speaks during an interview with The Associated Press at the Dnipro hotel near the Independence Square, Kiev, Ukraine. The vocal and well-armed organization presents a headache for the new Ukrainian leadership with its armed presence in the streets, its radical nationalist rhetoric and its antics. “We are Ukrainian nationalists. A nationalist is a person who is ready to sacrifice their time, their freedom and even their life for the sake of Ukraine and Ukrainians,†Tarasenko, a top member of the group told the Associated Press in an interview. “If Ukraine is not for Ukrainians, then who is it for?†(AP Photo/David Azia)

In this photo taken Friday, March 7, 2014, Andriy Tarasenko, a spokesman for the Right Sector, speaks during an interview with The Associated Press at the Dnipro hotel near the Independence Square, Kiev, Ukraine. The vocal and well-armed organization presents a headache for the new Ukrainian leadership with its armed presence in the streets, its radical nationalist rhetoric and its antics. “We are Ukrainian nationalists. A nationalist is a person who is ready to sacrifice their time, their freedom and even their life for the sake of Ukraine and Ukrainians,†Tarasenko, a top member of the group told the Associated Press in an interview. “If Ukraine is not for Ukrainians, then who is it for?†(AP Photo/David Azia)

In this photo taken Tuesday, March 11, 2014, a member of the Right Sector registers the details of a man, at left, interested in joining the group outside the Dnipro hotel near Kiev’s Independence Square, Ukraine. Having received no posts in the new government, the group is now transforming itself into a political party and plans to field its leader to run in presidential elections in the May 25 election. The Right Sector is also recruiting volunteers to fight Russian troops who have occupied the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea. (AP Photo/David Azia)

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KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Shoppers in the center of Kiev were out of luck one recent afternoon: A clothing store and a cell phone shop were occupied by black-clad men in masks, and bulletproof vests. Not far away, toughs from the same group patrolled a major Kiev hotel, scaring visitors with their baseball bats, handguns and balaclavas.

Several weeks after mass protests ousted Russian-leaning President Viktor Yanukovych, hundreds of members of the radical ultranationalist group, the Right Sector, continue to patrol central streets and occupy buildings in Kiev, while some more radical members have burst into regional government offices, brandishing rifles, harassing bureaucrats and even punching a prosecutor.

The group isn’t stopping at controlling the street: They want real power in government.

To achieve that aim the Right Sector is trying to turn itself into a political party. And its leader, Dmytro Yarosh, plans to run for president in May.

Demonized by Russian state propaganda as fascists and accused of staging attacks against Russian-speakers and Jews, the Right Sector has been used by Moscow as the main reason it has sent troops into Crimea and warned about the need to protect Russian-speakers in the east.

But many here downplay the group’s importance — and the threat it represents. The group has not received any posts in the new government and observers say it has little real clout or support in the polls. The Associated Press and other international news organizations have found no evidence of hate crimes. Ukraine’s Jewish leaders have also spoken in support of the Maidan protests and the new government they have brought to power, and some Jews have served in the Maidan’s self-defense units side-by-side with the Right Sector.

Yet the rightist organization still presents a headache for the new Ukrainian leadership with its armed presence in the streets, the antics of some of its members, its far-right rhetoric and symbols that some say are Nazi-inspired — amid Kiev’s push to embrace Western values and integrate quickly with the European Union. At the same time, the group stands ready to provide fiercely patriotic men to counter Russia’s military incursion. The group is recruiting volunteers ready to fight against Russia as the Crimean peninsula — occupied by Russian troops — prepares for a referendum on Sunday on splitting off from Ukraine and joining Russia.

“We are Ukrainian nationalists. A nationalist is a person who is ready to sacrifice their time, their freedom and even their life for the sake of Ukraine and Ukrainians,” Andriy Tarasenko, a

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