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Ukraine

Separatists claim high turnout and large support for autonomy in eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian leaders in eastern Ukraine have said that voters in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions turned out en masse and overwhelmingly supported independence. Authorities in Kyiv, the EU and US do not recognize the vote.

Counting underway in East Ukraine separatist vote

Voting drew to a close across Donetsk and Luhansk on Sunday evening, in a pair of regional referenda decried as a "criminal farce" by the interim national government in Kyiv. Ukraine's foreign ministry also said the votes were "inspired, organized and financed by the Kremlin."

In Donetsk province, election commission head Roman Lyagin told a news conference after polls closed that turnout was around 75 percent and roughly 90 percent of participants supported regional independence. Officials in Luhansk were slower to respond, but had also voiced confidence of high turnout and a clear majority while the polls remained open.

International monitors or election observers were not present for the ballots on Sunday, rejected by the US and EU, among others. Electoral roles were not available to organizers ahead of the referenda, hastily arranged without support from Kyiv, leading to criticism of a haphazard registration procedure with no safeguards against multiple voting.

"Figures from fake referendums in Eastern Ukraine likely to be fake. No way of even knowing official turnout," Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt wrote on his Twitter account on Sunday.

Hollande dismisses poll

French President Francois Hollande said both votes were "null and void" during his visit to Azerbaijan on Sunday. Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel had jointly appealed to all Ukrainian groups on Saturday to engage in a "national dialogue" and clear the path for free elections.

The Moscow newspaper Komersant quoted Russian president Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, as saying Putin would analyze the results of the ballots before commenting. Putin had called for the independence votes to be delayed on Thursday, although the US State Department alleged that these comments were not reported on Russian state media.

Reports of one dead in shooting

Voting on Sunday was largely reported to have proceeded peacefully, although footage emerged in the evening of armed men opening fire on a crowd outside a town hall in Krasnoarmeisk. Separatists identified the shooters as members of Ukraine's national guard, claiming at least one person was killed.

Sunday's votes were staged almost two months after Crimea controversially voted to break away from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation on March 16.

msh/rc (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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