Rebels in east Ukraine spurn Putin, as region hurls towards referendum vote
Thursday, May 08, 2014 - 01:46
May 8 - Ukraine's separatists will move ahead with their independence referendum, defying calls by Russian President Vladimir Putin to postpone the ballot to open the way for talks with authorities in Kiev. Mana Rabiee reports.
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Shots fired in Ukraine's port city of Mariupol.
Government forces took back the city hall from pro-Russian separatists Thursday.
One man was reported injured.
Control of the building exchanged hands several times this week, as east Ukraine moves towards a Sunday referendum on independence.
Separatists voted unanimously Thursday to move ahead with the vote as planned.
They defied a call by Russian President Vladimir Putin the day before to postpone the vote, and to give dialogue with the central government a try.
(SOUNDBITE) (Russian) LEADER OF SELF-PROCLAIMED 'PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF DONETSK', DENIS PUSHILIN, SAYING:
"The decision NOT to postpone the referendum was passed 100 percent. The referendum will be held on May 11."
Residents of rebel-held areas were stunned by Putin's remarks.
(SOUNDBITE) (Russian) PRESS OFFICER OF THE 'ARMY OF THE SOUTH EAST' SEPARATIST MOVEMENT, NIKOLA NIKITIN, SAYING:
"People want it to be held, people are preparing for it. It's not a local committee but ordinary people reporting on their progress of preparing for it. People call and say...'we are only waiting for ballots so that people can come and vote."
Government troops continue to patrol around the rebel stronghold, Slaviansk.
Russia says its troops along Ukraine's border have pulled back from the frontier.
A possible sign the crisis might finally begin to deescalate.
But NATO, the U.S. and the U.K. have all said they see no evidence of a Russian withdrawal.
NATO Secretary General Anders Rasmussen, in Poland, said NATO members worried over Ukraine can feel safe.
(SOUNDBITE) (English) NATO SECRETARY GENERAL, ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN, SAYING:
"Let me assure you that as a member of NATO you are safe. Anybody who would try to test allied solidarity will fail."
With Wednesday's rebel vote, eastern Ukraine seems to be hurling towards possible independence.
Sunday's referendum on all-out self-rule could potentially pitch the country into war.
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