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    Mar 18, 2014

    96% in Crimea vote favour joining Russia


    CRIMEA'S Moscow-backed leaders declared a 96 per cent vote in favour of quitting Ukraine and annexation by Russia in a referendum Western powers said was illegal and will bring immediate sanctions.

    As state media in Russia carried a startling reminder of Moscow's power to turn the United States to "radioactive ash", US President Barack Obama spoke to Mr Vladimir Putin, telling the Russian President that he and his European allies were ready to impose "additional costs" on Moscow for violating Ukraine's territory.

    The Kremlin and the White House issued statements saying Mr Obama and Mr Putin saw diplomatic options to resolve what is the gravest crisis in East-West relations since the Cold War.

    But Mr Obama said Russian forces must first end "incursions" into its former Soviet neighbour while Mr Putin renewed his accusation that the new leadership in Kiev, brought to power in an uprising last month against his elected Ukrainian ally, was failing to protect Russian-speakers from violent Ukrainian nationalists.

    Moscow defended a military takeover of the majority ethnic Russian Crimea by citing a right to protect "peaceful citizens".

    Ukraine's interim government has mobilised troops to defend against an invasion of its eastern mainland, where pro-Russian protesters have been involved in deadly clashes in recent days.

    With three quarters of Sunday's votes counted in Crimea, a Black Sea peninsula that is home to two million people, 95.7 per cent had supported annexation by Russia, chief electoral official Mikhail Malyshev was quoted as saying by local media.

    Turnout was 83 per cent, he added - a high figure, given that many who opposed the move had said they would boycott the vote.

    Russia's Lower House of Parliament will pass legislation allowing Crimea to join Russia "in the very near future", news agency Interfax cited its deputy speaker as saying yesterday.

    "Results of the referendum in Crimea clearly showed that residents of Crimea see their future only as part of Russia," Mr Sergei Neverov was quoted as saying.

    China avoided making a comment on the Crimea referendum and has said it does not back sanctions on Moscow - a close diplomatic ally and key economic partner.