Pro-Russian rebels will hold Ukraine referendum, defy Putin

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Pro-Russian separatist leader Denis Pushilin (C) talks during a media conference inside a regional government building in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine May 8, 2014. Photo: Reuters
Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine said Thursday they would go ahead with a referendum on secession set for Sunday, defying Russian President Vladimir Putin\’s call to postpone it and dashing hopes of dialogue with the government in Kiev.
The move was announced by separatist leaders after consulting supporters.
“We have just voted in the People\’s Council. … The date of the referendum was endorsed 100 percent. The referendum will take place on May 11,” separatist leader Denis Pushilin said.
The announcement came a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin called for the vote\’s postponement saying the move could open the way for dialogue with Kyiv authorities.
On Wednesday,   Putin called for a postponement to create the conditions necessary for dialogue.
Ukrainian authorities say they will disregard the results and that "anti-terror" operations will continue.
Millions of ballot papers have been prepared for the referendum.
The question put to voters is: "Do you support the act of proclamation of independent sovereignty for the Donetsk People\’s Republic?\’\’
The decision to press ahead with the vote was announced by separatist leaders in the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.
The leader in Donetsk, Denis Pushilin, said the decision had been unanimous.
"We just voice what the people want and demonstrate through their actions," he said.
A spokesman for the Kremlin said there was "little information" and that it needed to analyse the situation further.
Pro-Russian activists who have seized government buildings in eastern regions, such as Donetsk and Luhansk, had announced plans to stage polls on secession from Kiev following the protest-led ouster in February of a Kremlin-backed regime.
Ukraine\’s Interior Minister says 30 pro-Russian insurgents were killed during Monday\’s military assault to expunge anti-government forces in the eastern town of Slovyansk.
Arsen Avakov said Tuesday that four government troops also died and another 20 were injured during the gun battles.
Separately on Tuesday, authorities suspended flights in and out of eastern Ukraine\’s industrial hub of Donetsk. It is unclear why the flights were suspended or how long the suspensions were to remain in effect. 
With violence on the rise in Ukraine, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has told the French News Agency he will offer himself as a mediator before the situation creates huge consequences beyond anybody\’s control.
Ukraine is facing its worst crisis in decades as citizens fight over whether to look toward Europe or improve ties with Russia. Pro-Russian separatists control about a dozen eastern Ukrainian towns and cities, demanding the right to vote on whether to split with Ukraine and join Russia. 
A similar referendum in Crimea in March led to the Russian annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula and the current crisis. 
Russia\’s Foreign Ministry is calling on Ukraine to withdraw its troops from the east and open talks on ways to resolve the political crisis.
Interim Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk accuses Russia of seeking to destroy Ukraine by engineering what he says is a "well-planned provocation" against the government. 
Russia says the new Ukrainian government is controlled by anti-Russian nationalists and neo-Nazis. It says it has the right to protect Russian speakers.
On Tuesday, British Foreign Minister William Hague, who was also in Vienna for the Council of Europe meeting, accused Russia of trying to prevent or disrupt Ukraine\’s May 25 presidential election.
And French President Francois Hollande warned Tuesday that there will be "chaos and the risk of civil war" if the May 25 vote is not held.
Forty-six people died in the Black Sea city on Friday in a fire at an official building and fighting between pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian protesters.
The 25 May presidential election was called after pro-Kremlin President Viktor Yanukovych was overthrown by pro-Western protesters in February.
The votes have been denounced as illegal by both Kiev and its allies in Washington and the European Union.
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Source: Agencies

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