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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Eastern Ukraine Separatists Proceed With Vote

by VOA News May 10, 2014

Organizers of a referendum on independence in two troubled eastern Ukrainian regions say the vote will take place as planned on Sunday, despite concerns Ukraine's government may try to block it.

Pro-Russian separatists planning the referendum say Friday's attack by government forces that killed as many as 20 people in the port city of Mariupol will not disrupt the vote.

On Saturday, organizers and residents in Donetsk and Luhansk continued preparations for the referendum. Leaflets and posters urging people to vote could be seen across the city of Luhansk.

The separatist leader in Luhansk, Valery Bolotov, told Russia's Interfax news service he expects a 90 percent voter turnout.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande said Saturday the referendum is illegitimate. The two leaders also said they would support more extensive EU sanctions against Russia if the May 25 presidential election in Ukraine does not take place as planned. The new sanctions are expected to target Russia's economy.

Recent polling shows 70 percent of residents in eastern Ukraine do not want to break away from Ukraine and establish self-rule.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has urged organizers to delay the vote.

On Friday, Ukrainian troops driving armored vehicles in Mariupol smashed through barricades surrounding a police station occupied by pro-Russian separatists.

The offensive in Mariupol marked the second time this week that government security forces engaged armed separatists.

It also came as Putin visited Ukraine's Crimea peninsula for the first time since Moscow annexed the territory in March. The United States, which does not recognize the annexation, condemned Putin's visit, while Ukraine's Foreign Ministry called it a 'provocation.'

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