UK & World News

  • 12 May 2014, 2:32

Ukraine Crisis: Guardsmen Open Fire On Crowd

Violence has flared in Ukraine at the end of a day of voting which could see two regions break away and pledge loyalty to Russia.

The unofficial poll has been condemned by a host of countries including Britain - and dismissed as a "criminal farce" by the government in Kiev.

It centres on whether the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk should become independent, but with links to Moscow.

Rebels in Donetskclaimed 89% of people had voted for independence, and the turnout was just under 75%.

As the make-shift polling stations closed on Sunday night, at least one person in the town of Krasnoarmeisk was reported to have been shot dead by Ukranian government forces.

The shooting took place outside the town hall hours after guardsmen shut down voting in the building.

Scuffles reportedly broke when more guardsmen arrived to secure the building.

Heavily-armed men in balaclavas started shooting at the crowd as the standoff escalated.

A severe shortage of polling booths, ballot papers being printed off unsupervised, and confusion over what people are actually being asked to vote on, have beset the hastily-organised vote.

The referendum has been held in defiance of Moscow by pro-Russian militants.

More than three million ballot papers have been distributed across the regions, with organisers claiming to have spent just 980 on the entire ballot.

In Mariupol - the scene of fierce fighting in recent days - there were just eight polling stations for half a million people.

It led to lengthy queues, and at one centre, ballot boxes were put out on the pavement.

The vote has been declared illegal by both the Kiev government and the international community and marks a serious deepening of the political crisis in Ukraine.

Acting chief of the Ukrainian presidential administration Sergiy Pashinski said: "The turnout throughout the whole region amounts to zero as far as formalities are concerned.

"I would like to underline one more time it's not a referendum. It is a desultory attempt by terrorists, bandits and killers to cover their activity by having citizens vote in Luhansk and Donetsk."

Although a 'yes' vote would likely only be recognised by Russia, it would greatly undermine a presidential election that Ukraine is to hold in two weeks, which the US and Europe see as crucial to restoring stability.

The vote comes amid intensifying violence on the ground in east Ukraine.

Troops have been battling the well-armed rebels, who have barricaded themselves in towns and cities in Donetsk and Luhansk.

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