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Crimean Tatars Call Off Rally

Refat Chubarov, head of the Crimean Tatars' Mejlis
Leaders of Crimea's Tatars have called off a ceremony to commemorate 70 years since their deportation by Stalin.

The Mejlis, the Crimean Tatars' main representative body, announced its decision on May 17, one day after authorities in Ukraine's peninsula, annexed by Russia in March, banned all public gatherings until June 6.

In a statement on its website, the Mejlis said "no mass rallies will take place in the center of Simferopol" on May 18.

It called instead for Tatars to gather at religious centers and other locations.

Pro-Moscow Crimea leader Sergei Aksyonov cited violence in southeast Ukraine as the reason for his decision to ban the rally.

May 18 is the date Soviet deportations of Tatar families began in 1944. Many of the 200,000 deportees died on their way into exile.

Refat Chubarov, chairman of the Mejlis, described the decree as an "inhuman act."

Chubarov had earlier predicted many Tatars were likely to ignore the ban.

Russian President Vladimir Putin met representatives of the Crimean Tatars in Sochi, southern Russia, on May 17 and said Russia would improve their lives -- but added that they must accept their future lay with Russia.

"We are ready to work with all people ... but none of us can allow the Crimean Tatar people to become a bargaining chip in disputes ... especially in disputes between Russia and Ukraine," Putin said.
Mejlis Leader Says Crimea Rally Ban Can't Stop Deportation Commemorations
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​(​WATCH: Mejlis Leader Refat Chubarov Says Crimea Rally Ban Can't Stop Deportation Commemorations)

In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said "Russia's occupation and illegal attempt to annex Crimea has reopened old wounds."

"The list of human rights abuses committed today in Crimea is long and grows longer with each passing week," Kerry said in a statement.

"Murder, beatings and the kidnapping of Crimean Tatars and others have become standard fare."

Kerry said the United States will "commemorate the tragedy of 1944 with heavy hearts, even as we stand in solidarity with Crimean Tatars today against a new threat to their community."

Based on reporting by Reuters and Interfax
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