Crimeans overwhelmingly vote for secession

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine (AP) - Ethnic Russians in the regional Crimean capital of Simferopol are overjoyed at the prospect of once again becoming part of Russia.

Just two weeks after Russian troops seized their peninsula, Crimeans voted Sunday to leave Ukraine and join Russia. They overwhelmingly approved a referendum that sought to unite the region with the country it was part of for some 250 years.

As the votes were counted, a jubilant crowd gathered around a statue of Vladimir Lenin in the center of Simferopol to celebrate. They sang and danced. Many held Russian flags, and some unfurled a handwritten banner reading "We're Russian and proud of it." Fireworks exploded in the skies above.

The vote is being widely condemned by Western leaders, who plan to move swiftly to punish Russia with economic sanctions.

Ukraine's new government in Kiev calls the referendum a "circus" directed at gunpoint by Moscow.

Opponents of secession are denouncing the vote as a cynical power play and land grab by Russia.

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

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