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Crimeans Overwhelmingly Vote For Secession

March 16, 2014, 3:45 PM

SIMFEROPOL, UKRAINE -

Ethnic Russians in the regional Crimean capital of Simferopol are overjoyed at the prospect of once again becoming part of Russia.

Residents in Crimea voted overwhelmingly to secede from Ukraine and join Russia in a referendum on Sunday.

After the polls closed, crowds erupted with jubilant chants in the city's main square amid fireworks and fluttering Russian flags.

The United States and Europe are condemning the referendum as illegal and destabilizing and are expected to slap strong sanctions against Russia for it, perhaps as soon as Monday

Ukraine's new government in Kiev calls the referendum a "circus" directed at gunpoint by Moscow -- referring to the thousands of Russian troops now in the strategic Black Sea peninsula after seizing it two weeks ago.

Opponents of secession appeared to have stayed away Sunday, denouncing the vote as a cynical power play and land grab by Russia.

The Crimean parliament will meet Monday to formally ask Moscow to be annexed and Crimean lawmakers will fly to Moscow later in the day for talks, Crimea's pro-Russia prime minister said on Twitter.

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