[Mikhail Malyshev, chairman of the commission preparing and holding the All-Crimea Referendum in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, speaks to the press in Simferopol, capital of Ukraine's Autonomous Republic of Crimea. (Xinhua/Sadat)]
SIMFEROPOL, (Xinhua): A whopping 96.6 percent of Crimean voters chose to join Russia in Sunday’s referendum on the status of Ukraine’s autonomous republic, according to the latest official results.
The Crimea referendum commission said only 2.55 percent of voters chose to stay with Ukraine but with greater autonomy. Crimea has a population of about 2 million, of which just over 1.5 million were eligible to vote.
Crimeans in Simferopol and Sevastopol were seen celebrating the outcome of the referendum late Sunday night and early Monday morning.
Most, when asked, expressed their confidence this, the third such referendum in the peninsula’s history, would direct them “home” to Russia.
The Crimea Peninsula, historically part of the Russian Federation, was transferred to Ukraine in May 1954, then a republic of the Soviet Union.
In May 1992, the Crimean Supreme Council (parliament) declared independence, pending a referendum, which was called off by the Ukrainian authorities.
Crimea held two other referenda, in 1991 and 1994, to test voters’ preference for greater autonomy within Ukraine or uniting with Russia.
The supreme council decided on March 6 this year to hold the latest referendum, which was originally scheduled for March 30, after the new Ukrainian government decided to remove Russian as the official language on the peninsula.
The Crimean Supreme Council passed a resolution declaring independence on March 11 to pave the way for Sunday’s referendum.