Final Crimea count: 97 percent back Russia

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Pro-Russian people celebrate in the central square in Sevastopol, Ukraine, late Sunday, March 16, 2014. Russian flags fluttered above jubilant crowds Sunday after residents in Crimea voted overwhelmingly to secede from Ukraine and join Russia. The United States and Europe condemned the ballot as illegal and destabilizing and were expected to slap sanctions against Russia for it.(AP Photo/Andrew Lubimov)

Pro-Russian people celebrate in the central square in Sevastopol, Ukraine, late Sunday, March 16, 2014. Russian flags fluttered above jubilant crowds Sunday after residents in Crimea voted overwhelmingly to secede from Ukraine and join Russia. The United States and Europe condemned the ballot as illegal and destabilizing and were expected to slap sanctions against Russia for it.(AP Photo/Andrew Lubimov)

In this photo taken on Sunday, March 16, 2014, Pro-Russia demonstrators chant slogans as they carry a giant flag during a rally at a central square in Kharkiv, Ukraine. Thousands of pro-Russia demonstrators gathered in the Ukraine’s northeastern town to show their support for the Crimean referendum. (AP Photo/Sergey Kozlov)

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MOSCOW (AP) — The final results of the referendum in Crimea show that 97 percent of voters have supported leaving Ukraine to join Russia, the head of the referendum election commission said Monday.

Mikhail Malyshev told a televised news conference that final tally from Sunday’s vote was 96.8 percent in favor of splitting from Ukraine. He also said that the commission has not registered a single complaint about the vote.

The referendum was widely condemned by Western leaders who were planning to discuss economic sanctions to punish Russia on Monday.

Ukraine’s new government in Kiev called the referendum a “circus” directed at gunpoint by Moscow.

The Crimean peninsula has been seized for two weeks now by troops under apparent Russian command.

Russia raised the stakes Saturday when its forces, backed by helicopter gunships and armored vehicles, took control of the Ukrainian village of Strilkove and a key natural gas distribution plant nearby — the first Russian military move into Ukraine beyond the Crimean peninsula of 2 million people.

The Russian forces later withdrew from the village but kept control of the gas plant. On Sunday, Ukrainian soldiers were digging trenches and erecting barricades between the village and the gas plant.

The Crimean parliament planned to meet Monday to formally ask Moscow to be annexed, and Crimean lawmakers were to fly to Moscow later in the day for talks, Crimea’s prime minister said on Twitter.

Associated Press

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