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Ukraine regions vote on autonomy

By Reuters in Mariupol,Sloviansk, Ukraine | China Daily | Updated: 2014-05-12 07:23

Referendum in Luhansk and Donetsk goes ahead as planned

Ukrainian rebels in the regions of Luhansk and Donetsk pressed ahead with a referendum on self-rule on Sunday as new fighting flared, raising fears of civil war in the former Soviet state.

Clashes broke out on Saturday night around a television tower on the outskirts of Sloviansk, the most heavily defended rebel redoubt. Fighting resumed on Sunday morning just before voters made their way to polling stations through streets blocked by barricades.

Sergei, a fighter speaking near an outer checkpoint, blamed Ukrainian forces for the clashes.

"They are probably trying to put people off voting, but it won't work," he said.

Zhenya Denyesh, a 20-year-old student voting at a university building said: "I wanted to come as early as I could. We all want to live in our own country."

Asked what he thought would come after the vote, he replied: "It will still be war."

For a vote on which so much hangs, the referendum in Luhansk and Donetsk, which has declared itself a "People's Republic", seemed a decidedly ad hoc affair.

Ballot papers have been printed without security provision, polling stations were limited in some areas and there was confusion on quite what people were asked to endorse.


Thirty-three-year-old engineer Sergei said he would vote "yes" to the question on the ballot paper, printed in Russian and Ukrainian: "Do you support the act of state self-rule of the Donetsk People's Republic?"

"We're all for the independence of the Donetsk republic," he said. "It means leaving behind that fascist, pro-American government (in Kiev), which brought no one any good."

But in the same queue of voters, 54-year-old Irina saw a "yes" vote as endorsement of autonomy within Ukraine.

"I want Donetsk to have its own powers, some kind of autonomy, separate from Kiev. I'm not against a united Ukraine, but not under those people we did not choose, who seized power and are going to ruin the country."

Others see a "yes" vote as a move to independence and still others see it as a nod to absorption by Russia.

Annexation is favored by the more prominent rebels, but the ambiguity may reflect their fears that an explicit call for full "independence" might not have garnered the support they seek.

'A step into the abyss'

Oleksander Turchinov, Ukraine's acting president, who has ruled the referendum illegal and dismissed the allegations that the Kiev authorities are neo-fascists, told eastern regions on Saturday that any move toward secession would be "a step into the abyss".

Turchinov urged east Ukrainian political leaders to join a "Round Table" discussion on devolution of powers in Ukraine.

But he has said he would not negotiate with "terrorists", a formulation meant to exclude most of the more prominent rebel leaders.

Moscow denies any role in the rebellion or any ambitions to absorb the mainly Russian-speaking east into the Russian Federation.

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.

Ukraine regions vote on autonomy

Residents stand near a member (center) of a local election commission and a portable ballot box during the referendum on the status of the Luhansk region in the village of Ternovoe outside Luhansk, eastern Ukraine on Sunday. Valentyn Ogirenko / Reuters


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