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SIMFEROPOL, July 23. /TASS/. French members of parliament, who arrived on Thursday in Crimea, have made "a courageous political step," the peninsula’s Speaker Vladimir Konstantinov said.
"I thank you for a courageous political step — a visit to our historical building," Konstantinov told the French delegation at the State Council. "The building of the State Council [local parliament] is historical for the Crimeans as right here lawmakers of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, part of Ukraine then, made a historic decision to hold a referendum."
Konstantinov said that during those days the Crimean residents "lived through turmoil times," adding that the right to hold a referendum was proscribed in Ukraine’s Constitution and the peninsula’s residents enjoyed it.
"The outcome of the referendum was a reaction of the whole Crimean community to the events in Ukraine," the speaker went on to say. "Ukraine was like a boiling pot and the people were frightened of the situation in Kiev. After the funerals of people killed in Kiev, a wave of spontaneous protests swept through Crimea, although it was not organized. The task set before the parliament was not to let the protests grow into unconstrained actions. A civil war seemed to be the main threat those days."
Konstantinov is proud of everything done in March 2014, he said.
"We are proud of the fact that we did it and the lawmakers stood up for protection of their people for the first time for many years," he said.
Earlier on Thursday, a delegation of French lawmakers headed by the member of the French National Assembly from the Union for a Popular Movement, Thierry Mariani, arrived in the Crimean capital of Simferopol at 16.30 Moscow time (15.00 GMT). The delegation is planning to have meetings both with local authorities and with common people.
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.
On March 11, 2014 Crimea’s Supreme Council and Sevastopol’s city council adopted a declaration announcing independence of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, including the Black Sea naval port of Sevastopol. On March 16 more than 82% of the electorate took part in the referendum, with 96.77% in the Republic of Crimea and 95.6% in Sevastopol backed splitting from Ukraine and spoke in favor of reuniting with Russia.
On March 18, the treaty on Crimea’s reunification with Russia was signed.
Results of the referendum were celebrated by many Crimeans but the vote was widely criticized by Western leaders and at the United Nations that alongside Ukraine refused to recognise the referendum was legitimate.
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.