Crimea declares independence from Ukraine, applies to join Russia

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Pro-Russian Crimeans celebrate in Sevastopol on March 16, 2014 (AFP, Viktor Drachev)
Crimea\’s parliament has formally declared independence from Ukraine and asked to join the Russian Federation.
It follows Sunday\’s referendum in which officials say nearly 97% of Crimeans voted to break away from Ukraine.
The government in Kiev has said it will not recognise the results. The US and EU say the vote was illegal and have vowed to impose sanctions on Moscow.
The Crimean peninsula has been under the control of pro-Russia forces since late February.
Moscow says the troops are pro-Russian self-defence forces and not under its direct control.
The crisis follows the ousting of Ukraine\’s pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovych on 22 February, following months of street protests and deadly clashes.
According to the vote in Crimea\’s parliament on Monday, Ukrainian laws no longer apply in the region and all state Ukrainian state property belongs to Crimea.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian parliament in Kiev formally approved the partial mobilisation of 40,000 reservists, in response to what it called the "war-time situation".
Speaking in parliament, interim President Oleksandr Turchynov described the referendum as a "great farce" which "will never be recognised either by Ukraine or by the civilised world".
Many Crimeans loyal to Kiev boycotted the referendum, and the EU and US condemned it as illegal.
The tally came as the peninsula\’s pro-Moscow leader, Sergei Aksynov, announced that his government will formally apply on Monday to join the Russian Federation.
In Kyiv, Ukraine\’s interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk — speaking at an emergency cabinet meeting — called the Moscow-backed Crimea vote "a circus spectacle" directed at gunpoint by Russia. He spoke as thousands of heavily armed Russian troops patrolled major cities on the peninsula as voters cast ballots.
Shortly after the polls closed, the White House released a statement saying it rejects the referendum. It said the international community will not recognize the results of a poll taken under threats of violence and intimidation from a Russian military intervention that violates international law.
It said no decision should be made about the future of Ukraine without the Ukrainian national government.
The statement also said the presidential elections planned for May 25 will provide a legitimate opportunity for all Ukrainians to make their voices heard on the future of their country.
A top White House aide repeated Western warnings of economic sanctions against Moscow if secession occurs.
The European Union and the European Council also released statements Sunday calling the referendum illegal and illegitimate, and warning that its outcome will not be recognized internationally.
Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Sunday agreed to push for Ukrainian constitutional reforms for power sharing and decentralization as a solution to the crisis.
In Kyiv, Ukraine\’s acting defense minister told reporters that both Ukraine and Russia have agreed on a truce in Crimea until March 21. 
Defense Minister Ihor Tenyukh said the agreement covers Russia\’s Black Sea fleet, which is stationed in Crimea. He also said no measure will be taken against Ukrainian military facilities during the truce, and that Ukraine\’s military sites — blockaded for days — are now replenishing their supplies.
Sunday\’s vote came a day after Russian forces seized a natural gas facility just outside Crimean territory. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry called the move "a military invasion by Russia." 
Ukraine provides the peninsula with all of its water and energy needs, and some analysts say the seizure may be aimed at ensuring the peninsula\’s energy requirements are met in the event Kyiv were to cut off supplies.
Source: Agencies

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