Pro-Russian rebels hold referendums in Donetsk and Luhansk to split from Ukraine

Local people take part in a referendum provided by the so called Donetsk Republic members at a polling station in Khryaschevate village near of Lugansk, Ukraine, 11 May 2014. Photo: EFE
The EU and US have also condemned the referendums, amid fears that Ukraine could be sliding to civil war.
Residents of two restive regions in eastern Ukraine engulfed by a pro-Russian insurgency cast votes Sunday in contentious and hastily organized independence referendums, which have been rejected as illegal by the Ukrainian government and the West.
Sunday\’s poll, carried out as two "referendums" in the provinces of Donetsk and Lugansk, where armed men hold more than a dozen towns, marks a serious deepening of the political crisis in the country.
There is only one question on the ballot papers, in both Ukrainian and Russian: "Do you support the act of state self-rule of the Donetsk People\’s Republic/Luhansk People\’s Republic?"
And there are still outbreaks of violence, with fighting reported overnight around the rebel-held city of Sloviansk.
Ukraine says the vote could result in the "self-destruction" of the regions.
The organisers have suggested they intend to hold a second round of voting later this month, on joining Russia. They also say they will boycott Ukraine\’s presidential elections on 25 May.
Interim Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov has warned secession supporters that independence for the regions would be "a step into the abyss."   He has appealed to the rebels to join talks on greater autonomy in the east.
Sunday\’s ballots seek voter approval for establishing so-called sovereign people\’s republics in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.  The vote – organized on an ad hoc basis with no clear controls over ballot papers or voter lists – has been widely criticized in Kyiv and in Western capitals.
Separatist leaders claim the populations in Donetsk and Luhansk are demanding the immediate opportunity to vote on the region\’s future, despite questions about the legality of the ballots and recent polling showing 70 percent of locals opposed to secession.
Jen Psaki, a State Department spokeswoman, said late Saturday the U.S. will not recognize the results.  She said the polls "violate international law and the territorial integrity of Ukraine."
Psaki said the U.S. is "disappointed" that Russia has not used its influence in the region to postpone the poll, despite Russian President Vladimir Putin\’s suggestion last week to delay the vote and his claim that Russian forces were pulling back from the Ukrainian border.
Instead, Psaki said, the U.S. does not have any indication the Russian military is moving away from the border.  She said Russian state media continue to "strongly back" the referendums "with no mention of Putin\’s call for postponement."  
Western leaders blame Moscow for encouraging the separatist movement.  German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande said Saturday they would back new economic sanctions against Moscow if the ongoing unrest threatens Ukraine\’s May 25 presidential election.
On Friday, Putin visited Ukraine\’s Crimea peninsula for the first time since Moscow annexed the territory in March.  The United States, which does not recognize the annexation, condemned Putin\’s visit.  Ukraine\’s Foreign Ministry called it a "provocation."
Russia is estimated to have some 40,000 troops near the border, but has said it has no plans to cross into mainland Ukraine.
Moscow says the troops have been pulled back, but NATO says it has seen no sign of this.
The vote marks a deepening of the political crisis in Ukraine, which has pushed East-West relations to lows not seen since the Cold War.
Source: Agencies
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