Crimea lawmakers schedule vote on joining Russia

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This image taken from AP video shows a group of unidentified men in military fatigues outside a cafe in Simferopol, Ukraine who appear to be stopping UN Special Envoy to Ukraine, Robert Serry from leaving as he makes a call on his mobile phone inside, Wednesday, March 5, 2014. The special U.N. envoy who is visiting Crimea was threatened by 10 to 15 armed men on Wednesday and ordered to leave the region, where Ukraine and Russia are locked in a tense standoff, U.N. officials said. Later, an Associated Press reporter found Robert Serry in the business class lounge of the Simferopol airport on Wednesday evening. “I’m safe. My visit was interrupted for reasons that I cannot understand,” the Dutch diplomat said in a statement to AP. He said nothing more. (AP Photo/AP video)

This image taken from AP video shows a group of unidentified men in military fatigues outside a cafe in Simferopol, Ukraine who appear to be stopping UN Special Envoy to Ukraine, Robert Serry from leaving as he makes a call on his mobile phone inside, Wednesday, March 5, 2014. The special U.N. envoy who is visiting Crimea was threatened by 10 to 15 armed men on Wednesday and ordered to leave the region, where Ukraine and Russia are locked in a tense standoff, U.N. officials said. Later, an Associated Press reporter found Robert Serry in the business class lounge of the Simferopol airport on Wednesday evening. “I’m safe. My visit was interrupted for reasons that I cannot understand,” the Dutch diplomat said in a statement to AP. He said nothing more. (AP Photo/AP video)

Pro-Russian activists follow special U.N. envoy Robert Serry in front of the airport in Simferopol, Ukraine, Wednesday, March 5, 2014. The special U.N. envoy visiting Crimea was threatened by 10 to 15 armed men on Wednesday and ordered to leave the region, where Ukraine and Russia are locked in a tense standoff. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

This image taken from AP video shows Robert Serry sat in a cafe in Simferopol, Ukraine, as he makes a call on his mobile phone, Wednesday, March 5, 2014 as men in famouflage outfits stood outside. The special U.N. envoy who is visiting Crimea was threatened by 10 to 15 armed men on Wednesday and ordered to leave the region, where Ukraine and Russia are locked in a tense standoff, U.N. officials said. Later, an Associated Press reporter found Robert Serry in the business class lounge of the Simferopol airport on Wednesday evening. “I’m safe. My visit was interrupted for reasons that I cannot understand,” the Dutch diplomat said in a statement to AP. He said nothing more. (AP Photo/AP video)

Riot police stand at the entrance of the regional administrative building during a rally in Donetsk, Ukraine, Wednesday, March 5, 2014. Hundreds of demonstrators waving Russian flags have stormed a government building in Donetsk in the eastern Ukraine. The region is the home area of fugitive Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled the country after massive protests in Kiev. (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)

Pro-Russia demonstrators holding a Russian flag, with the Ukrainian emblem in the background, stand on the balcony of the regional administrative building after storming it in Donetsk, Ukraine, Wednesday, March 5, 2014. Hundreds of demonstrators waving Russian flags have stormed a government building in Donetsk in the eastern Ukraine. The region is the home area of fugitive Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled the country after massive protests in Kiev. (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)

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SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine (AP) — Lawmakers in the embattled Crimean region of Ukraine decided Thursday to hold a referendum March 16 on whether Crimea should become part of Russia, a move likely to further ratchet up tensions.

“This is our response to the disorder and lawlessness in Kiev,” Sergei Shuvainikov, a member of the local Crimean legislature, said. “We will decide our future ourselves.”

The parliament in Crimea, which enjoys a degree of autonomy under current Ukrainian law, voted 78 with eight abstentions in favor of holding the referendum. Local voters will also be given the choice of deciding to remain part of Ukraine, but with enhanced local powers.

There was no immediate response from the Ukrainian central government to the vote. On Wednesday, Ukraine’s prime minister told The Associated Press that Crimea would remain part of Ukraine.

A referendum had been already scheduled in Crimea on March 30, but the question to be put to voters was on whether their region should enjoy “state autonomy” within Ukraine.

Earlier, Crimea’s new leader said pro-Russian forces numbering more than 11,000 now control all access to the peninsula in the Black Sea and have blockaded all military bases that have not yet surrendered.

The West has joined the new Ukrainian leadership in Kiev in demanding that Russia pull its forces from Crimea, but little progress was reported after a flurry of diplomatic activity in Paris on Wednesday involving U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

The European Union leaders will meet for an emergency session in Brussels on Thursday to decide what sorts of sanctions they can impose on Russia over its actions in Ukraine. Moscow has threatened to retaliate if any punitive measures are put in place.

A U.N. special envoy sent to Crimea came under threat from armed men who forced him to leave the region.

Concern that the turmoil could engulf eastern Ukraine grew after hundreds of demonstrators — many chanting “Russia! Russia! — stormed a government building on Wednesday in Donetsk, a major industrial center near the Russian border.

Clashes between protesters and police broke out early Thursday in Donetsk as police cleared demonstrators from the regional administration building. The Ukrainian flag once again was hoisted over the building, and about 100 Ukrainian Interior troops could be seen in and around it. Two large trucks were parked in front to block the approach.

The European Union on Wednesday extended $15

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