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Tuesday, September 02, 2014, 9:03 a.m.
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Crimea lawmakers set vote on joining Russia

By The Associated Press

This article was originally published March 6, 2014 at 7:04 a.m. Updated March 6, 2014 at 9:05 a.m.

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On Wednesday, March 5, 2014, pro-Russian supporters chant slogans during a rally at a central square in Simferopol, Ukraine. Ukraine is facing a potentially crippling geographic and cultural divide, a growing gulf between supporters of Russia who dominate the east and south of the country, and western Ukrainians who yearn for closer ties to Western Europe. One side of that divide is even starker in Crimea, a Black Sea peninsula. For much of the past 200 years, Crimea was under Russian and Soviet control, and today most Crimeans see themselves as only nominally Ukrainian and Russian is, by far, the dominant language.

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine — Lawmakers in Crimea declared their intention Thursday to split from Ukraine and join Russia instead, and scheduled a referendum in 10 days for voters to decide the fate of the disputed peninsula. Russia's parliament, clearly savoring the action, introduced a bill intended to make this happen.

The Obama administration slapped new visa restrictions against pro-Russian opponents to the new Ukraine government in Kiev, and cleared the way for forthcoming financial sanctions, as the West began punishing Moscow for refusing to withdraw its troops from the strategic region that also houses Russia's Black Sea fleet.

Ukraine's prime minister said the Crimean lawmakers' decision is illegitimate, as a European Union official warned that results of any referendum will not be recognized by the West.

The 100-seat parliament in Crimea, which enjoys a degree of autonomy under current Ukrainian law, voted 78-0, with eight abstentions, in favor joining Russia and for holding the referendum March 16. Local voters will also be given the choice of deciding to remain part of Ukraine, but with enhanced local powers.

"This is our response to the disorder and lawlessness in Kiev," said Sergei Shuvainikov, a member of the local Crimean legislature, "We will decide our future ourselves."

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