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Code: 267659
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Date: Thursday, May 08, 2014
Pro-Russia rebel vote to go ahead
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Pro-Russian activists in eastern Ukraine have said they will not postpone a referendum on independence planned for Sunday.

The decision comes one day after Russian President Vladimir Putin urged delaying the vote to create the conditions necessary for dialogue.

But Ukrainian authorities said "anti-terror" operations would continue regardless of the rebels' decision.

Millions of ballot papers have been prepared for the vote.

In what appeared to be a further shift in Russian policy, Mr Putin also said on Wednesday that this month's presidential elections in Ukraine were a move "in the right direction".

His remarks came days after his spokesman said holding such an election would be absurd.
'Illegitimate vote'

Moscow has vowed to protect the rights of the largely Russian-speaking people in the south and east against what it calls an undemocratic government in Kiev.

But Ukrainian interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniyuk dismissed Mr Putin's calls as "hot air".

Ukrainian authorities have rejected activist demands for greater autonomy and troops have been battling to regain official buildings occupied by rebels in the east.

On Thursday Ukraine's national security council confirmed military operations would continue.

"The counterterrorist operation will go on regardless of any decisions by any subversive or terrorist groups in the Donetsk region," the council's secretary Andriy Parubiy said. Their decision comes as a Pew Research Center poll released on Thursday shows that a strong majority of Ukrainians want their country to remain unified, even in the largely Russian-speaking east.

The White House said the "illegitimate, illegal" vote should be cancelled rather than postponed.

The US and the European Union have imposed sanctions against several Russian individuals and businesses and threatened wider measures if Moscow interferes further in eastern Ukraine.

Sunday's planned referendum was seen as a potential trigger for that.

On Wednesday, President Putin also announced he was ordering Russian troops back from the Ukrainian border.

But one day after Mr Putin's comments, Nato said there was still no sign of any Russian troop withdrawal.

Unrest in the south and east of Ukraine has worsened since Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula in March.

That followed the ousting of Ukraine's pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych in February by pro-Western protesters.

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