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Crimeans overwhelmingly vote for secession


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German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke to Putin by phone Sunday, proposing that an international observer mission in Ukraine be expanded quickly as tensions rise in the east. Her spokesman said she also condemned the Russian seizure of the gas plant.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry also spoke and agreed to support constitutional reforms in Ukraine that could ease the tensions, the Russian Foreign Ministry said. Ukraine’s Regional Policy Minister Volodymyr Groisman told The Associated Press the new government was already working on giving towns and regions more autonomy but said there were no plans to turn Ukraine into a federation.

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In Donetsk, one of the main cities in eastern Ukraine, pro-Russia demonstrators called Sunday for a referendum similar to the one in Crimea.

In Sevastopol, speakers blared the city anthem up and down the streets but the military threat was not far away — a Russian naval warship still blocked the port’s outlet to the Black Sea, trapping Ukrainian boats.

At a polling station inside a historic school, tears came to Vladimir Lozovoy, a 75-year-old retired Soviet naval officer, as he talked about his vote.

"I want to cry. I have finally returned to my motherland. It is an incredible feeling. This is the thing I have been waiting for for 23 years," he said.

But Crimea’s large Muslim Tatar minority — whose families had been forcibly removed from their homeland and sent to Central Asia during Soviet times — remained defiant.

The Crimea referendum "is a clown show, a circus," Tatar activist Refat Chubarov said on Crimea’s Tatar television station. "This is a tragedy, an illegitimate government with armed forces from another country."

The fate of Ukrainian soldiers trapped in their Crimean bases by pro-Russian forces was still uncertain. But Ukraine’s acting defense minister, Igor Tenyuk, was quoted as saying Sunday that an agreement had been reached with Russia not to block Ukrainian soldiers in Crimea through Friday. It was not clear exactly what that meant.

On the streets of Simferopol, blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flags were nowhere to seen but red, white and blue Russian and Crimean flags fluttered in abundance.


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Ethnic Ukrainians interviewed outside the Ukrainian Orthodox cathedral of Vladimir and Olga said they refused to take part in the referendum, calling it an illegal charade stage-managed by Moscow. Some said they were scared of the potential for widespread harassment.

"We’re just not going to play these separatist games," said Yevgen Sukhodolsky, a 41-year-old prosecutor from Saki, a town outside Simferopol. "Putin is the fascist. The Russian government is fascist."

Vasyl Ovcharuk, a retired gas pipe layer, predicted dark days ahead for Crimea.

"This will end up in military action, in which peaceful people will suffer. And that means everybody. Shells and bullets are blind," he said.

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Dalton Bennett in Sevastopol, Yuras Karmanau in Strilkove and Jim Heintz and Maria Danilova in Kiev contributed to this story



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