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Pro-Russian separatists claim victory in referendum denounced by Kyiv

Organizers of independence referendums in eastern Ukraine are claiming victory based on early ballot returns. The vote has been described as a "farce" by Kyiv, but Russia says it respects the outcome.

Majority vote for independence

According to a tally of votes on Monday, 89 percent of those who cast ballots on Sunday in the region of Donetsk and about 96 percent of voters in Luhansk voted to become independent from Kyiv.

The vote, called by pro-Russian separatists, was condemned by Ukraine's interim president Oleksandr Turchynov Monday morning.

"The farce that terrorist separatists call a referendum is nothing more than propaganda to cover up murders, kidnappings, violence and othe serious crimes," Turchynov told parliament, adding that the result would have no legal consequences for authorities in Kyiv.

"These processes are inspired by the leadership of the Russian Federation, are destructive to the Donetsk and Luhansk regions' economies, threaten the lives and welfare of citizens and have the aim of destabilizing the situation in Ukraine, disrupting (May 25) presidential elections and overthrowing Ukrainian authorities," he said, while on the other hand expressing willingness to "continue dialogue with those in the east of Ukraine who have no blood on their hands and who are ready to defend their goals in a legitimate way."

Russia responds

Russia on Monday said it respected the outcome of the vote and called for the results to be put into action peacefully.

"In Moscow, we respect the will of the people of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions and are counting on practical implementation of the outcome of the referendum in a civilized manner, without any repeat of violence and through dialogue," the Kremlin statement read.

Future unclear

The organizers of the vote, pro-Russian insurgents who have taken over several government buildings in eastern Ukraine during the past month, said that with the results in, the future status of the regions would be discussed later. The options include seceding from Ukraine or being annexed by Russia, as happened with Crimea in March.

International monitors or election observers were not present for the voting on Sunday, which followed weeks of violent clashes between the rebels and Ukrainian security forces. The referendum was rejected by the US and EU, among others.

se/tj (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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