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Crimea lawmakers declare intention

Lawmakers in Crimea declared their intention Thursday to split from Ukraine and join Russia instead, and scheduled a referendum in 10 days for voters to decide the fate of the disputed peninsula. Russia's parliament, clearly savoring the action, introduced a bill intended to make this happen.

The Obama administration slapped new visa restrictions against pro-Russian opponents of the new Ukraine government in Kiev, and cleared the way for upcoming financial sanctions, as the West began punishing Moscow for refusing to withdraw its troops from the strategic region that also houses Russia's Black Sea fleet.

Ukraine's prime minister said the Crimean lawmakers' decision is illegitimate, as a European Union official warned that results of any referendum will not be recognized by the West.

The 100-seat parliament in Crimea, which enjoys a degree of autonomy under current Ukrainian law, voted 78-0, with eight abstentions in favor joining Russia and for holding the referendum on March 16. Local voters will also be given the choice of deciding to remain part of Ukraine, but with enhanced local powers.

In Moscow, a prominent member of Russia's parliament, Sergei Mironov, said he has introduced a bill to simplify the procedure for Crimea to join Russia and it could be passed as soon as next week, the state news agency ITAR-Tass reported.

A senior Western diplomat said that the EU leaders, meeting in Brussels to discuss their response to Moscow's move, “will send a clear message that the referendum won't be recognized.” The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity.

On Tuesday, President Vladimir Putin said Russia had no intention of annexing Crimea, while insisting its population has the right to determine the region's status in a referendum.

People and Entities

The U.S. sanctions targeted an unspecified and unidentified number of people and entities that the Obama administration accuses of threatening Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial borders.

Specifically, the sanctions would target people who undermine Ukraine's democracy and new government; threaten the country's peace, security, stability and sovereignty; are linked to misappropriations of government assets; and try to assert governmental authority over any part of Ukraine without the consent of Kiev. They would also prohibit U.S. persons from doing business with those who have been sanctioned.

Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, welcomed the sanctions and said the Ohio Republican is “committed to working with the administration to give President Obama as many tools as needed to put President Putin in check as well as prevent Russia from infringing on the sovereignty of any of its other neighbors.”

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Femen women's rights activists protest the war in front of the parliament building in Simferopol, Ukraine on Thursday, March 6. (AP)

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