Tensions rise in Ukraine ahead of referendum in Crimea

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Associated Press

Posted on March 15, 2014 at 11:01 AM

Updated Saturday, Mar 15 at 11:03 AM

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine (AP) — Billboards throughout the capital of the Ukrainian republic of Crimea proclaim "Together With Russia" today, though a few have been hit by spray-painters who replaced "Russia" with "Ukraine."

Crimea holds a referendum tomorrow on whether to seek annexation by Russia, and the question has raised strong passions on both sides. At least a thousand supporters rallied today in downtown Simferopol. They say the region rightfully belongs to Russia and that the government that replaced President Viktor Yanukovych (yah-noo-KOH'-vich) is run by fascist-minded nationalists who will abuse Crimea's majority ethnic-Russian population.

Opponents bristle at Russia's heavy hand. Moscow sent in military forces last month, effectively putting Crimea under Russian control.

The referendum is denounced by Kiev and the West as illegitimate, and the West is threatening costly sanctions against Russia if it moves to incorporate Crimea. However, observers say Crimea is almost certain to vote to split off.

Tensions are also high elsewhere in Ukraine. Last night, two people were killed and several wounded in a shootout that erupted after a clash in the city of Kharkiv between pro-Russian demonstrators and their opponents.

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138-a-19-(Ivan Simonovic (EE'-vahn see-moh-NOH'-vihch) United Nations assistant secretary-general for human rights, in interview)-"country and Crimea"-Ivan Simonovic, the U.N.'s assistant secretary-general for human rights, says despite a lack of access to all part of Ukraine, his delegation has plenty of cases to investigate. COURTESY: Sky News ((mandatory on-air credit)) ((note cut length)) (15 Mar 2014)

<<CUT *138 (03/15/14)££ 00:19 "country and Crimea"

137-a-22-(Ivan Simonovic (EE'-vahn see-moh-NOH'-vihch) United Nations assistant secretary-general for human rights, in interview)-"human rights perspective"-Ivan Simonovic, the U.N.'s assistant secretary-general for human rights, says he has grave concerns about Sunday's referendum in Crimea. COURTESY: Sky News ((mandatory on-air credit)) ((note length)) (15 Mar 2014)

<<CUT *137 (03/15/14)££ 00:22 "human rights perspective"

APPHOTO MOSB104: Demonstrators march in support of Kremlin-backed plans for the Ukrainian province of Crimea to break away and merge with Russia, in Moscow, Saturday, March 15, 2014. Large rival marches have taken place in Moscow over Kremlin-backed plans for Ukraine's province of Crimea to break away and merge with Russia. A poster depicts photos of WWII German prisoner of war and Ukrainian prime minister Arseniy atsenyuk,and says "Your project is doomed, grandson." (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko) (15 Mar 2014)

<<APPHOTO MOSB104 (03/15/14)££

APPHOTO MOSB103: Demonstrators carrying Russian and Ukrainian flags march to oppose president Vladimir Putin's policies in Ukraine, in Moscow, Saturday, March 15, 2014. Large rival marches have taken place in Moscow over Kremlin-backed plans for Ukraine's province of Crimea to break away and merge with Russia. More than 10,000 people turned out Saturday for a rally in the center of the city held to oppose what many demonstrators described as Russia's invasion of the Crimean Peninsula. In a nearby location, a similar sized crowd voiced its support for Crimea's ethnic Russian majority, who Moscow insists is at threat from an aggressively nationalist leadership now running Ukraine. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko) (15 Mar 2014)

<<APPHOTO MOSB103 (03/15/14)££

APPHOTO MOSB102: Demonstrators hold Russian flags and a poster "We trust Putin" during a demonstration in support of Kremlin-backed plans for the Ukrainian province of Crimea to break away and merge with Russia, in Moscow, Saturday, March 15, 2014. Large rival marches have taken place in Moscow over Kremlin-backed plans for Ukraine's province of Crimea to break away and merge with Russia. More than 10,000 people turned out Saturday for a rally in the center of the city held to oppose what many demonstrators described as Russia's invasion of the Crimean Peninsula. In a nearby location, a similar sized crowd voiced its support for Crimea's ethnic Russian majority, who Moscow insists is at threat from an aggressively nationalist leadership now running Ukraine. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko) (15 Mar 2014)

<<APPHOTO MOSB102 (03/15/14)££

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