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Election silence day begins in Crimea before March 16 secession referendum

March 15, 2014, 3:53 UTC+3 SIMFEROPOL
Crimean Information Minister Dmitry Polonsky said there is no formal ban on campaigning one day before the start of the plebiscite in the provision on its holding adopted by the Crimean parliament
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© EPA/ARTUR SHVARTS

SIMFEROPOL, March 15, /ITAR-TASS/. An election silence day begins Saturday in the Autonomous Ukrainian Republic of Crimea, where most residents are Russians, and the city of Sevastopol, which has a special status in Ukraine, prior to the March 16 secession referendum.

“However, being guided by international standards of organization of the voting process, including referendums, we decided that there should be ‘a day of silence’,” Polonsky said.

He said it means that Crimean media, including television, would see no campaigning for the autonomy to become or not become part of Russia, but that there would be no ban on urging residents to vote.

Nor will there be any restrictions on street billboards some of which have images of flowers, ribbons with Russian tricolor flags and inscriptions “Choose a worthy future.”

Crimea’s parliament, the Supreme Council, on March 6 decided that the Ukrainian autonomy would secede from Ukraine and join Russia as its constituent member. The issue was put to a referendum that will take place on March 16. The Crimean parliament adopted on Tuesday a declaration of independence for Crimea.

The referendum offers the following questions:

1) Do you support reunification of Crimea with Russia as a constituent member of the Russian Federation?

2) Do you support the reinstatement of the 1992 Constitution of the Republic of Crimea and Crimea’s status as part of Ukraine?

Historical background

In 1992, Crimea had its own Constitution and broader autonomy.

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. In 1991, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, Crimea became part of newly independent Ukraine.

“We have made our choice long ago. Ukraine has given us nothing, so we will try to live in Russia,” a resident of the city of Simferopol, the capital of Crimea, told an Itar-Tass correspondent.

“Earlier, I was not a keen supporter of joining Russia,” a resident of Kerch admits. “But what is happening in Ukraine is horrible. They won’t let us live, it’s clear.”

A teacher of a school in Sevastopol, a city located on the Crimean Peninsula but not making part of the Crimean autonomy, which will also hold a referendum on whether to join Russia on March 16, said Sevastopol “traditionally differed [from other cities] by its relation to Russia, and there may be no questions here.”

Some of those people repeat their words on camera to foreign journalists who have been arriving in Crimea these days. Representatives of Western media admit that they did not expect this. They ask not to mention their names and media they work for.

A British reporter said he arrived in Simferopol the day before yesterday. He is surprised at “each taxi driver giving an approving nod when hearing the word ‘Russia’.”

“We’ve been in Crimea for a few weeks conducting an independent survey,” German reporters said. “We have reached the conclusion that 5-6 percent of the population are belligerent regarding the referendum. Far fewer people are ready to take arms if something happens.”

Foreign reporters are also surprised at the number of cars with Russian flags riding in Sevastopol, Simferopol, Yalta and other Crimean cities.

Such rides will not be banned on the election silence day. Nor will spectators with Russian symbols who will come to watch concerts face any restrictions. “However, some adjustments will be made to the way concert sites look,” the Crimean Supreme Council said. “Besides, there should be no calls to vote for [joining] Russia from the stage.”

The Kuban Cossacks chorus, the Zemlyane and Lyube bands and other Russian groups and singers will perform at events on Saturday and Sunday, a spokesman for the Crimean Culture Ministry said.

The cultural program will be held in conditions of tightened security. “There will be some 2,500 officers ensuring law and public order,” the Crimean police said.

“We are in constant contact with the leadership of Crimea and feel all necessary measures to ensure security at the referendum are being taken,” Russia’s consul general in Simferopol Vyacheslav Svetlichny told Itar-Tass.

“We think there are no grounds for anxiety and hope the referendum will be held in an atmosphere of stability and calm. The authorities of Crimea, the self-defense units fully control the situation,” the diplomat said.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich left Ukraine in February after a coup in his country. He told reporters in southern Russia on Tuesday that he remained the legitimate Ukrainian leader despite “an anti-constitutional seizure of power by armed radicals.” Russia considers Yanukovich the legitimate Ukrainian president.

Russia has said the decision of the Crimean parliament to hold the plebiscite on whether to secede from Ukraine is legitimate.

The self-proclaimed new Ukrainian authorities and the West have cried foul over the upcoming referendum claiming it would be “illegitimate.

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