Ukraine crisis: Eastern rebels claim 'self-rule' poll victory

As Sarah Rainsford reports, men with guns were in polling stations for the vote

Pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region have claimed a resounding victory in a "self-rule" referendum, saying 89% voted in favour.

Results from a similar vote in the region of Luhansk are due shortly and are expected to show a similar outcome.

BBC reporters at polling stations on Sunday witnessed few checks on identity and multiple voting in places.

Ukraine's interim President Olexandr Turchynov has called the vote a "farce" with no legal consequences for Kiev.

The EU and US also said the polls were illegal.

Separatists claimed two people were killed by armed men loyal to Kiev in the city of Krasnoarmiisk.

But otherwise the voting passed off peacefully, the BBC's Richard Galpin in Donetsk reports.

A number of towns in the two regions refused to hold the poll.

The referendums were held despite an earlier call by Russian President Vladimir Putin to delay them in order to create the conditions necessary for dialogue.

The Kremlin has so far made no official comments after the voting ended.

'Occupying forces'

The head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic election commission, Roman Lyagin, told journalists several hours after the vote ended that 89.07% voted in favour of self-rule, with 10.19% against, with 0.74% of the ballots declared invalid.

Organisers count votes in Donetsk. Photo: 11 May 2014 Organisers in Donetsk announced the results just hours after the voting ended
Voters at a polling station in Mariupol, eastern Ukraine (11 May) Some polling stations, like this one in Mariupol, have seen long queues
A Ukrainian government soldier guards a checkpoint in Mariupol, Donetsk region. Photo: 11 May 2014 Ukrainian government soldiers are involved in what Kiev says is an ongoing "anti-terror" operation in the east

Turnout was put at nearly 75%.

Results in the Luhansk region are expected later on Monday.

Donetsk separatist leader Denis Pushilin told one Russian news agency that once the results were confirmed, all Ukrainian military troops in the region would be considered "occupying forces".

The Ukrainian foreign ministry condemned the polls, saying they were "inspired, organised and funded by the Kremlin".

Eastern Ukraine referendum

  • Votes in separatist-controlled cities and towns of Donetsk and Luhansk regions
  • Some 3,000,000 ballot papers ask: "Do you support the Act of State Self-rule of the Donetsk/Luhansk People's Republic?"
  • Second round on joining Russia planned for 18 May
  • Vote deemed illegal by Kiev government and international community

In a statement, it said: "The Ukrainian people does not recognise any terrorist referendums in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, and also in Crimea," in a reference to Russia's annexation of the southern peninsula in March.

In other developments:

  • BBC reporters said only a handful of polling stations served Mariupol, a city of half a million
  • The BBC filmed a woman casting two ballots
  • One pro-Ukraine teacher said she received death threats after refusing to let rebels use her school as a polling station

The ballot papers in Ukrainian and Russian ask one question: "Do you support the Act of State Self-Rule of the Donetsk People's Republic/Luhansk People's Republic?"

A second round of voting is planned in a week's time, asking whether people support joining Russia. Organisers also say they will boycott Ukraine's presidential elections on 25 May.

New sanctions warning

Mr Turchynov has admitted many in the east supported pro-Russian militants, but warned the referendums were "a step towards the abyss".

The EU and US have also condemned the referendums, amid fears Ukraine could be sliding to civil war.

A Pew Research Centre survey suggested a majority even in eastern Ukraine - 70% - wanted to remain in a united country, despite concerns about governance.

Russia annexed Ukraine's southern autonomous republic of Crimea after a March referendum.

Russia is estimated to have some 40,000 troops near the border and says they have been pulled back, but Nato says it has seen no sign of this.

EU leaders have warned Russia it faces further sanctions if Ukraine's presidential election fails to go ahead. EU foreign ministers are due to meet in Brussels to discuss the issue.

Map: Donetsk & Luhansk

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