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96.6 percent of Crimeans vote to Join Russia

Fireworks exploded and Russian flags were waved by jubilant crowds last night after Crimea voted overwhelmingly to split from Ukraine and join Russia.

Final results showed 96.6 per cent of voters have backed passing control of the region from Kiev to Moscow.

The result comes after Ukrainian prime minister Arseny Yatseniuk vowed to hunt down the 'separatist leaders' in Crimea, warning that the 'ground will burn under their feet'.

Speaking at a cabinet meeting, Yatseniuk said: 'We will find all of them - if it takes one year, two years - and bring them to justice and try them in Ukrainian and international courts.

He also accused Moscow of sending 'touring' trouble-makers across the border to stir up tensions after Russian troops poured into Crimea today.

The speaker of Crimea's regional assembly said Moscow was likely to respond swiftly to Sunday's referendum on the southern Ukrainian region joining Russia.

'I think that (Russia) will answer quickly, because you see what is happening to people, it is an important event, it is not only a Crimean event, it is a Russian and a global event,' Vladimir Konstantinov told Rossiya 24 news channel.

Despite the US, EU and Ukrainian government declaring the ballot illegal and saying they will not recognise the outcome, the Kremlin is backing Crimean officials.

Russian sources have confirmed President Putin spoke to Barack Obama by telephone, saying the vote 'complies with international law'.

However the President responded by saying that the vote 'will never be recognised' by the US, and instead warned Russian against further military moves outside of Crimea.

Obama told Putin that 'a diplomatic resolution cannot be achieved while Russian military forces continue their incursions into Ukrainian territory and that the large-scale Russian military exercises on Ukraine's borders only exacerbate the tension,' the White House said in a statement.

Even before official results of the referendum were announced, the White House denounced the vote, saying 'no decisions should be made about the future of Ukraine without the Ukrainian government' and noting that Russia had rejected the deployment of international monitors in Crimea to ensure the rights of ethnic Russians there were protected.

'Russia has spurned those calls as well as outreach from the Ukrainian government and instead has escalated its military intervention into Crimea and initiated threatening military exercises on Ukraine's eastern border,' the White House said, calling those actions 'dangerous and destabilising.'

Last night the EU also confirmed that 'dozens or scores' of Russian officials will face sanctions including asset freezes and visa restrictions from tomorrow, after whittling down a list of 120 names.

Britain has rejected Crimea's referendum vote to breakaway from the Ukraine and join Russia, with William Hague denouncing the vote as a 'mockery of proper democratic practice'.

Arriving in Brussels for talks tomorrow with EU foreign ministers, Hague said Russia must now face 'economic and political consequences' for its violation of Ukrainian sovereignty.

'Nothing in the way that the referendum has been conducted should convince anyone that it is a legitimate exercise,' Mr Hague said.

'The referendum has taken place at ten days' notice, without a proper campaign or public debate, with the political leaders of the country being unable to visit Crimea, and in the presence of many thousands of troops from a foreign country. It is a mockery of proper democratic practice.

'The UK does not recognise the referendum or its outcome, in common with the majority of the international community.'

Western powers are now readying sanctions, including visa restrictions and asset freezes, to impose against Russian officials.

'The referendum is illegal and illegitimate and its outcome will not be recognised, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said in a joint statement today.

-Culled from The Guardian UK

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