Rebels Will Hold Ukraine Referendum, Defy Putin
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[May 08, 2014]
By Matt Robinson
DONETSK, Ukraine (Reuters) - Pro-Russian
separatists voted unanimously on Thursday in favor of holding a
referendum on independence, defying calls by Russian President Vladimir
Putin to postpone the vote to open the way for talks with the Kiev
Many in Ukraine's industrial east said Sunday's referendum was the
only way to prevent war, adding that without it they would lose the
faith of a population fired up over what the rebels, and Moscow,
call the "fascist" government in Kiev.
Russian markets sank on the news, and in Kiev, officials promised to
press on with their "anti-terrorist campaign" to retake control over
the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk regardless of the rebels'
decision on the poll.
"We have just voted in the People's Council ... The date of the
referendum was endorsed by 100 percent. The referendum will take
place on May 11," rebel leader Denis Pushilin told reporters.
"There are millions of people who want to cast their votes. Even if
we had voted against holding the referendum, it would have happened
anyway. Civil war has already begun. The referendum can put a stop
to it and start a political process."
A man in civilian clothes holding a Kalashnikov assault rifle stood
behind Pushilin as he spoke.
The referendum will take place in Donetsk and Luhansk.
Russia's MICEX fell 0.16 percent while RTS was down 0.22 percent on
the move, reversing earlier gains.
In a surprise announcement on Wednesday, Putin called on the rebels
to postpone the vote to create conditions for dialogue between Kiev
and the east, offering a possible chance to ease the worst East-West
standoff since the Cold War.
Kiev has rejected the referendum as illegitimate, and Prime Minister
Arseny Yatseniuk suggested Putin's command was proof that Moscow was
behind an uprising across Ukraine's east. Russia denies playing any
role in the upheaval.
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Ukraine's top security official, Andriy Paruby, said earlier on
Thursday that Kiev would press on a campaign to regain control of
the country's east.
"The anti-terrorist operation will continue regardless of the
decision of terrorist groups in Donetsk and Luhansk regions," he
told a news conference in Kiev.
In the rebel stronghold of Slaviansk, most of those interviewed said
the referendum should go ahead.
"The referendum needs to be held as planned, otherwise there will be
no end to this standoff," said Valentina, a pensioner who declined
to give her full name.
"Putin's over there, we're here and can see that people aren't going
to go anywhere until they've had a chance to have their say."
(Additional reporting by Alessandra Prentice in Slaviansk, Pavel
Polityuk in Kiev, Writing by Elizabeth Piper, Editing by Timothy
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