Voting has begun in the Crimean referendum to decide if the region leaves the Ukraine to become part of Russia. The referendum has already been dismissed as illegitimate by President Obama
A crucial referendum on either becoming an integral part of Russia or staying within Ukraine on conditions of wide autonomy has kicked off in the Republic of Crimea despite international condemnation and pressure from Kiev.
The polling stations of 27 regional Crimea election commissions are going to be open all day long, starting from 8am till 8pm (0600 GMT- 1800 GMT). Up to 1.5 million – this is the number of ballots printed for the referendum – Crimea citizens are expected come to cast their votes in favor of independence or against it.
Some 10,000 members of the Crimean military recently formed from self-defense squads, and over 5,000 police officers are ensuring the referendum goes smoothly.
Crimean authorities have reported about 135 registered international observers have arrived from 23 countries, including Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia and Poland. Members of the EU and national European parliaments, international law experts and human rights activists together with 1,240 local observers are monitoring the voting at ballot stations. Mass media in the peninsula is represented by 623 accredited journalists from 169 international media outlets.
After a power grab took place in capital Kiev on February 22, Ukraine’s legitimate President Viktor Yanukovich had to flee from his residence fearing for his life. The parliament of the Crimea autonomy, where about 60 percent of the residents are ethnic Russians, did not acknowledge the coup-imposed government in Kiev as legitimate and took the decision to dissociate from Ukraine.
On March 11 the parliament of the Crimea autonomy adopted a declaration of independence from Ukraine, opening way for the referendum on March 16.
The referendum in Crimea was preceded with numerous provocations on the peninsula and threats coming from the capital Kiev and western politicians.
Since the moment Crimea set date for independence referendum, official Kiev has been claiming that all actions of the Crimea authorities are illegitimate, disregarding the international practice of referendums.
On Saturday Ukraine’s parliament made the last desperate gesture to prevent the referendum, voting to dismiss the Crimean Supreme Council.
Alec Luhn in Moscow says that Russian state television is reporting a huge turnout for Crimean referendum and “no armed men” at the polling stations.
State news agency Interfax is quoting observer Enrique Ravello, a well-known nationalist deputy in Spain’s parliament, as saying he’s seen an “unprecedented turnout” in Crimea. “There’s no coercion, pressure on people. The referendum is being held peacefully, freely and openly.”
According to polling by German research group GfK, 70% of Crimeans who want to participate in the referendum plan to vote to join Russia, while only 11% plan to vote to remain part of Ukraine.
The Crimean referendum website was down on Sunday. Previously, organisers said the site underwent a DDoS hacker attack originating in the University of Illinois Urbana-Champagne in the United States.
St. Petersburg has closed down its main street for an automobile rally in support of the Crimean referendum organized by conservative parties. Yesterday, Moscow saw huge competing rallies for and against Russian intervention in Ukraine. At least 10,000 people took part in an anti-intervention, anti-Putin rally, at the end of which was read a resolution calling for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Crimea and the end of Russian interference in Ukraine’s internal affairs.
Pro-Russian Cossack volunteers take part in an oath-taking ceremony in Sevastopol, on March 15, 2014 (AFP Photo/Viktor Drachev)