UK & World News

  • 12 May 2014, 11:41

Ukraine Independence Vote Gets Russia Backing

Russia says the outcome of an independence referendum in eastern Ukraine should be implemented "in a civilised manner without violence".

Pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine have claimed victory in the contentious poll which could see two regions break away

Voters in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk cast ballots on Sunday on whether to declare their areas independent, but with links to Moscow.

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

But the Kremlin said it "respects the will of people" and condemned the use of force against civilians after at least one person was reportedly killed by Ukrainian forces.

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

Roman Lyagin, election chief in Donetsk, said early results showed almost 90% of voters in the region were in favour of sovereignty.

In Luhansk, about 96% were reported to have backed severing ties with Kiev.

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

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

Reports said the troops had tried to stop people voting.

Witnesses claimed heavily armed men in balaclavas started shooting at the crowd as the tense standoff escalated.

On the edge of Slavyansk, fighting broke out around a television tower shortly before people began making their way through barricades of felled trees and tyres for the vote. One serviceman was wounded.

Slavyansk's self-proclaimed mayor Vyacheslav Ponomaryov said turnout was 80% and the result "was not in doubt".

Asked if he knew what would follow, the former businessman said: "Of course we know. Work starts on the establishment ... of the Donetsk People's Republic."

Western leaders have threatened more sanctions in the key areas of energy, financial services and engineering if Moscow continues what they regard as efforts to destabilise Ukraine.

The EU may announce as early as today measures endorsing a widening of the legal criteria for imposing sanctions on Russia, with the goal of making it easier to freeze the assets of companies involved in the Ukraine crisis.

Using the new expanded criteria, EU officials have prepared a list of 14 people and two Crimean companies active in the energy sector that ministers are likely to add to the EU sanctions list today, diplomats say.

The identities of the people and firms are being kept confidential for now.

The EU has previously imposed asset freezes and visa bans on 48 Russians and Ukrainians over Moscow's annexation of Crimea but it would be the first time the bloc has targeted companies.

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