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SIMFEROPOL, March 10, /ITAR-TASS/. A referendum in Crimea on whether the Ukrainian autonomy will join Russia will be held in an open and democratic manner, a Crimean deputy prime minister said Monday.
“Preparations for the referendum are proceeding at full speed. Today, 27 territorial commissions are starting their work. Preparations for operation of more than 1,200 precinct commissions are ongoing, ballot papers and invitations have been printed,” Rustam Temirgaliyev said.
“Kiev’s decision to block the treasury accounts of Crimea only added confidence to Crimeans regarding the correctness of the chosen path,” he said.
Ukraine’s legitimate leader Viktor Yanukovich was ousted in a violent uprising in February. He fled the country citing security concerns. The parliament then appointed an interim head of state and installed a new government, which the authorities in Crimea, a mostly ethnic Russian autonomy within Ukraine, do not recognize.
Crimea’s Supreme Council on March 6 decided that the autonomous Ukrainian republic would secede from Ukraine and join Russia as its constituent member. The issue was put to a referendum that would take place on March 16.
“The referendum will be held March 16 in an open and democratic manner. No one in the world will be able to deprive Crimeans of their right to self-determination,” Temirgaliyev said Monday.
He said the rights and freedoms of the Crimean Tatar people, who constitute some 12 percent of Crimea’s population, would be ensured, including the official use of the Crimean Tatar language along with Russian, as well as preservation of their culture, history, education, religion and traditions.
The deputy premier also said Crimean Tatars would be represented in all bodies of power, including at the ministerial level, and pledged considerable financing for the Crimean Tatars’ compact settlement areas development program.
He said Crimea would have to spend up to $2 million on the referendum.
The current Ukrainian leadership and the West have condemned the upcoming referendum as illegitimate. Russia’s position is that the new Ukrainian authorities are illegitimate after the coup that ousted Yanukovich, but that Crimea’s authorities are legitimate.
In the Soviet Union, Crimea used to be part of Russia until 1954, when Nikita Khrushchev, the first secretary of the USSR’s Communist Party, transferred it to Ukraine's jurisdiction.
Russia leases from Ukraine a naval base in the port of Sevastopol on the Crimean Peninsula and has its Black Sea Fleet deployed there. Sevastopol is not part of the Crimean autonomy but has the status of a national significance city in Ukraine. It will also hold a separate referendum on March 16 on whether to join Russia.