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YALTA, 11 March. /TASS/. Crimea’s referendum on joining Russia in March last year was held according to democratic principles and will remain an important milestone in world history, Japan's former prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, said on Wednesday.
"I am convinced that the way the referendum was conducted and how the territorial problem was solved due to a democratically held referendum will remain one of the most important milestones in world history," Hatoyama, visiting the Black Sea peninsula, was quoted as saying by CrimeaInform news agency.
Addressing local authorities, Hatoyama expressed respect for the residents of Crimea, who had managed to resolve their own "territorial issue" ensuring the republic’s peaceful entry into the Russian Federation.
The Japanese politician noted that criticism was still heard in the international community that the referendum contravened Ukraine’s constitution.
"But from what I have learnt today, I was pleased to find that the Crimean referendum had also been in compliance with Ukrainian legislation," he said.
Hatoyama, heading the Russia-Japan Friendship Society, arrived on a three-day visit to the territory on Tuesday despite criticism from the Japanese foreign ministry and the government.
The former premier said he wanted personally to make sure that Crimea residents had sought to reunify with Russia.
On Tuesday, Hatoyama visited cultural and historic sites on Crimea’s southern coast. Later on Wednesday he planned to meet the republic’s leadership and on Thursday to visit Sevastopol, a Russian federal city and home to Russia's Black Sea fleet.
Crimea, where most residents are ethnic Russians, refused to recognise the legitimacy of authorities brought to power amid riots during a coup in Ukraine in February 2014.
In mid-March last year, Crimea re-joined Russia following a referendum. More than 82% of the electorate took part in the vote. Over 96% backed splitting from Ukraine and spoke in favour of reuniting with Russia.
Results of the referendum were celebrated by many Crimeans but the vote was widely criticised by Western leaders and at the United Nations.
In the Soviet Union, Crimea was part of Russia until 1954, when Communist Party head Nikita Khrushchev transferred the Crimean region, along with Sevastopol, to Ukraine's jurisdiction as a gift.