Pro-Moscow separatists declared victory on Sunday following a referendum on self-rule for east Ukraine that Kiev and the West have denounced as illegitimate. One voter told FRANCE 24 that he had been able to cast ballots three times.
Ten percent voted against, and turnout was 75 percent, the commission's chief, Roman Lyagin, told a news conference in the provincial hub of Donetsk.
"These can be considered the final results," he said, less than two hours after polls closed.
One separatist leader said the region would form its own state bodies and military after the referendum, formalising a split that began with the armed takeover of state buildings in more than a dozen eastern towns last month.
Another said the vote simply showed that the east wanted to decide its own fate, whether in Ukraine, on its own, or as part of Russia.
Voters were asked if they supported “the idea of self-reliance for the people’s republic of Donetsk”, which some took as a vote for independence while others thought the vote was on eventual union with Russia.
“It’s a very vague question and open to interpretation,” FRANCE 24’s Robert Parsons reported from Donetsk. “The organisers of the referendum may decide that this is the go-ahead for greater autonomy within Ukraine, they may also decide to form a separate republic, or yet again, they may follow the example of Crimea and call for unification,” he said.
Voter confusion, threats
Moscow denies any ambitions to absorb the mainly Russian-speaking east, an industrial hub, into the Russian Federation following its annexation of the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea after a referendum in March.
Ukraine’s interior ministry called the eastern referendum a criminal farce, its ballot papers “soaked in blood”. One official said two-thirds of the territory had not participated. Ballot papers in the regions of Donetsk, which has declared itself a “People’s Republic”, and the much smaller Luhansk, were printed without security provisions and voter registration was patchy amid confusion over what the vote was for.
A festive atmosphere at makeshift polling stations in some areas belied the potentially grave implications of the event. In others, clashes broke out between separatists and troops over ballot papers and control of a television tower.
FRANCE 24’s Gulliver Cragg reported alarmingly low vigilance at a polling station in the town of Makiivka, where one pro-Ukrainian activist said that he had been able to vote three times.
Meanwhile in Donetsk, Robert Parsons said that pro-Ukrainians had “received threatening phone calls, had been beaten up, or in some cases had been kidnapped”, in order to stop them from voting against separatism.
Others, he said “simply regarded the vote as being illegal” and chose to boycott the poll.
Sunday’s vote went ahead despite a call by Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday to postpone it – a move that briefly raised hopes for an easing of tensions with the West. Western leaders have accused Putin of supporting separatists Ukraine, a charge Moscow denies.
The European Union declared the referendum illegal and increased the pressure on Russia Monday by extending sanctions to two Crimean firms as well as 13 individuals linked to Moscow’s annexation of Crimea.
Western leaders, faced with a Russian assertiveness not seen since the Cold War, have threatened more sanctions in the key areas of energy, financial services and engineering if Moscow disrupts a presidential election planned in Ukraine on May 25.
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, diplomats said.
But the EU will remain far behind the United States in the severity of the sanctions it has imposed on Russia. Some European governments fear tough trade sanctions on Russia could undermine their own economies – which are just recovering from the financial crisis and some of which are dependent on Russian energy supplies – or provoke Russian retaliation.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP)
Date created : 2014-05-11