VOTING BEGINS AS CRIMEANS DECIDE THE FATE OF CRIMEA
Crimeans began balloting at 8 a.m. in a Crimean referendum that asks peninsula voters whether they want to join Russia or simply declare more autonomy from Ukraine for the region’s two million residents. The vote is widely considered to be a sham with an outcome pre-determined by the Kremlin and its prime minister in Crimea, Serhiy Aksyonov, whose authority the central government in Kyiv does not recognize. Polls close at 8 p.m. tonight.
The vote comes after more than two weeks of intense pressure and intimidation tactics used by the Crimean government and its armed pro-Russian militia units to persuade residents to vote for joining Russia. Local television broadcasts have been replaced by Russian state media reports, pro-Russian messages have been plastered on billboards across the peninsula and peaceful pro-Ukrainian demonstrators have been attacked by vicious participants of opposing protests.