Ukraine separatists vote in controversial election

2014-11-02 10:24
Pro-Russian rebels stand guard at a polling station during supreme council and presidential elections in the city of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine. (Dmitry Lovetsky, AP)

Pro-Russian rebels stand guard at a polling station during supreme council and presidential elections in the city of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine. (Dmitry Lovetsky, AP)

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Donetsk - Separatists in eastern Ukraine voted on Sunday in controversial, Russian-backed leadership elections that Kiev and the West have refused to recognise and which threaten to deepen an international crisis over the conflict.

The elections in the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic and Lugansk People's Republic - based around the two main rebel-held cities - were billed as bringing a degree of legitimacy to the makeshift military regimes that already control them.

"I hope that our votes will change something. Perhaps we will finally be recognised as a real, independent country," Tatyana Ivanovna, 65, said as she waited to cast her ballot in Donetsk's school number 104.

"We need to be able to live normally," said Valery Vitaliyevich, 50. "It's terrible being afraid for your family at every bombardment. I will vote hoping that this will help the authorities to defend our interests against Kiev."

Violation of truce

But Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko blasted the election as a violation of an already tattered truce deal signed on 5 September, calling them "pseudo-elections that terrorists and bandits want to organise on occupied territory".

Ukrainian authorities announced on Saturday the deaths of seven more soldiers and at least six wounded in separatist shelling, which authorities on Sunday said was continuing across the conflict zone.

"The election in the Lugansk People's Republic began with the shelling by insurgents of Girskye town," said Gennady Moskal, head of the regional administration, which remains loyal to Kiev. "They fired on the town with Grad (multiple rocket systems)," he said.

According to UN figures, more than 4 000 people have been killed in Ukraine's conflict in the last seven months.

International tensions

The elections are the latest bone of contention in the conflict that began with pro-Western demonstrators in Kiev ousting Ukraine's Moscow-backed government in February, then spiralled rapidly, with Russia annexing the southern region of Crimea, and separatists seizing towns in the east.

The crisis has triggered the biggest diplomatic dispute between the Kremlin and the West since the Soviet collapse.

Russia, which supports the rebels but denies sending troops to fight on their side, says it will recognise the results of the elections.

The United States and European capitals, which have imposed heavy economic sanctions on Russia, back Kiev in condemning the polls as illegal.

Read more on:    russia  |  ukraine

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