Simferopol (Ukraine) (AFP) - 16:00 GMT - Journalists declined entry - In Crimea, Cossacks and pro-Moscow militias have been seen patrolling at some polling stations and Russian flags were being flown everywhere from city buses to convoys of bikers roaming the streets, our correspondent Dario Thuburn reports. Accredited journalists including some from AFP have been prevented from entering polling stations in the port city of Sevastopol and the regional capital Simferopol, and several people were seen voting in Sevastopol before the polls officially opened, Thuburn writes. Foreign observers were present but security watchdog the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) declined an invitation to monitor saying it was not official as it did not come from Ukraine's national government. With the mass deportations by Stalin in 1944 still fresh in their memories, Tatars have opposed Crimea becoming part of Russia from the start and called for a boycott of the referendum.
Simferopol (Ukraine) (AFP) - Crimeans voted Sunday in a referendum to join Russia as tensions escalated in eastern Ukraine in the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War. Russia President Vladimir Putin vowed to "respect" the outcome of the vote in a region that is now under the de facto control of Russian forces despite an international outcry. "This is a historic moment," Sergiy Aksyonov, the local pro-Moscow prime minister, told reporters after casting his ballot in the regional capital Simferopol. Cossacks and pro-Moscow militias were patrolling outside polling stations and Russian troops guarded the unofficial border between Crimea and the rest of Ukraine but the atmosphere was largely celebratory.