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Ukraine

Merkel cautions Putin as Crimeans vote

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told Russian President Vladimir Putin that more international observers should enter Crimea as its controversial referendum unfolds. Several nations have condemned Sunday's vote.

Tensions on referendum day

During a phone call from Berlin on Sunday, Merkel told Putin that the presence of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) should be "swiftly expanded" on Crimea, said Steffen Seibert, the chancellor's spokesman.

Seibert said Merkel had also condemned a Russian military incursion on Saturday into a natural gas pumping station at Kherson, a northeastern coastal spit on Ukrainian territory just outside the Crimea peninsula claimed.

In turm, the Kremlin announced that Putin had told Merkel the referendum among the majority-Russian population in Crimea was being "implemented in full compliance with international law."

Putin had also reacted "positively" to Merkel's call for more OSCE observers, the Kremlin added.

Kyiv: OSCE also needed in Ukraine's east

From Kyiv, the prime minister of Ukraine's interim government Arseniy Yatsenyuk said OSCE observers should also be "urgently" to the east and south of Ukraine.

Ukraine's interim president, Oleksandr Turchynov, had called upon Crimeans to boycott the poll.

"The results have been drawn up in the Kremlin, which needs a reason to officially send troops onto our land and start a war," Turchynov asserted.

Masked troops presumed to be Russian seized the region in early March with the apparent help of pro-Kremlin militias in reaction to the fall of Ukraine's government last month in Kyiv.

In recent weeks, OSCE observers have been barred from Crimea at border checkpoints, and their mission announced on Sunday that the organization had declined a monitoring role because such a request had not come from Ukraine's national government.

In Eastern Ukraine on Sunday, thousands of pro-Russian protesters again took to the streets in the industrial cities of Donetsk and Kharkiv. Journalists reported that they succeeded in storming the local headquarters of Ukraine's security services as well as the prosecutor's office.

Ukrainian bases to be supplied

On Sunday in Kyiv, Defense Minister Igor Tenyukh said that under a temporary arrangement replenishment supplies would be delivered to Ukraine's military bases encircled in Crimea.

"We have reached this truce, and I think it will remain in place until March 21," Tenyukh said, without mentioning the Kherson incident.

Border guard spokesman Serhiy Astakhov told the news agency Associated Press on Sunday that Ukrainian forces had retaken control of the village late Saturday after negotiations but Russian troops still controlled the gas plant.

Global spotlight on referendum

Sunday's referendum was watched closely around the world.

Residents of Crimea were asked whether they wanted to become part of Russia or to retain more autonomy but stay in Ukraine. Keeping the status quo was not an option.

Though self-defense militias patrolled some polling stations and Russian flags hung everywhere, Crimea's native Muslim Tartar community called for a boycott.

On a Tatar television station in Crimea Sunday, the activist Refat Chubarov called the referendum "a clown show, a circus" and, beyond that, said that "this is a tragedy, an illegitimate government with armed forces from another country."

Preliminary results were expected to be announced soon after polling stations closed at 8 p.m. local time (1800 UTC).

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