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Crimea Assembly Dissolved; Kyiv Blames Kremlin For Violence In East

Election commission officials accompanied by the police wait for a bus to deliver ballots for the upcoming referendum in the Crimean capital Simferopol.
Election commission officials accompanied by the police wait for a bus to deliver ballots for the upcoming referendum in the Crimean capital Simferopol.
The Ukrainian parliament in Kyiv has voted to dissolve the Crimean Supreme Council, the Ukrainian region's parliament.

An overwhelming majority of 278 lawmakers voted in favor of the measure, with one abstention. Seventeen legislators did not take part in the vote.

Kyiv's Verkhovna Rada debated the issue on March 15 in a special session presided over by acting President and parliament speaker Oleksandr Turchynov.

One Ukrainian lawmaker said the Crimean assembly had to be dissolved in order to discourage a similar separatist movement from emerging in eastern Ukrainian cities that are predominantly Russian-speaking.

Legislators in Kyiv are upset with the Crimean parliament's holding of a referendum on the peninsula on whether to leave Ukraine and join Russia, scheduled for March 16.

The Ukrainian government has declared the referendum illegal. But Russian officials have said they will "respect" the will of the people.

Meanwhile, Turchynov has accused Moscow of being behind the deadly violence that has occurred in eastern Ukraine over the last two nights.

Turchynov said in parliament on March 15 that "Kremlin agents" in Donetsk and Kharkiv "are organizing and funding" mass pro-Russia protests.

Three people have died and dozens of others have been injured in clashes between pro-Russia and pro-Ukraine supporters in the past two nights.

Interior Minister Arsen Avakhov said two people were killed and several wounded in a shootout in Kharkiv overnight on March 14.

Avakhov wrote on his Facebook page on March 15 that some 30 people "from both sides" were arrested in the violence. He added that weapons were seized.

The Kharkiv violence comes one day after clashes in Donetsk left one pro-Ukraine protester dead and several others injured.

UN Resolution

Meanwhile in New York, the UN Security Council is expected to vote on March 15 on a resolution upholding Ukraine's territorial integrity.

The U.S.-sponsored draft also declares that the referendum on whether Crimea should break away and possibly join Russia "can have no validity."

Acting Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsya was hopeful about the UN Security Council vote.

"We do very much expect that other [UN] members will be able to convince Russia [to support the UN resolution], we still believe that there is a chance for the peaceful solution to this crisis," he said.

Supporters are aware Russia is virtually certain to veto the resolution.

But U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said the measure is aimed at "showing the extent of Russia's isolation as it pursues a nonpeaceful path."

Supporters say that 13 of the 15 Security Council members will vote "yes" and are hoping that China, an ally of Russia, will abstain from the vote.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on March 15 after talks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in London that Moscow will make no decisions about Crimea's future, including whether to embrace it as a new territory, until after the referendum

"We have already said through President [Vladimir] Putin's statement, that we will respect the choice of the Crimean people, or Crimean peoples, because there are several [peoples] there," he said. "And we will state our attitude towards the results of the referendum when the results are known. The Crimean parliament has adopted the declaration which stated the independence already and expressed the hope that the Crimeans will confirm that at the referendum."

Kerry maintained that the vote amounted to a "backdoor annexation" of the Ukrainian region.

"Neither we nor the international community will recognize the results of this referendum," he said. "We also remain deeply concerned about the large deployments of Russian forces in Crimea and along the eastern border with Russia."

With reporting by AP, Reuters, BBC, AFP, and RFE/RL's Ukrainian and Russian services
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