Crimeans voted overwhelmingly to reunify with Russia, according to preliminary results from the controversial referendum held Sunday in the Crimean Peninsula, which has been part of Ukraine since Russia turned it over to that then-Soviet republic in 1954.
Although definitive results will not be released until Monday, on Lenin Square in Simferopol, the capital of this largely Russian-speaking autonomous Ukrainian region, several thousand people of all ages celebrated the vote to rejoin Russia by waving Russian and Crimean regional flags.
According to preliminary official results announced by the local electoral commission, 95.5 percent of Crimeans who cast ballots Sunday opted for the region to rejoin the Russian Federation as a federal district. Election authorities said that turnout among the 1.5 million eligible voters in Crimea was 80 percent.
In the city of Sebastopol, the port city on the Crimean Peninsula that is home to Moscow's Black Sea Fleet, exit polls indicated that more than 93 percent of voters supported reunion with Russia.
Separatist authorities lost no time in announcing that on Monday the Crimean parliament will release the results of the referendum and will contact Russian President Vladimir Putin to ask him to reincorporate the peninsula into the neighbouring nation.
Meanwhile, the US, the European Union and the great majority of the international community have said that they will not recognise the results of the referendum -- given that it was held under the threat of violence and intimidation by Russian troops -- and will continue to defend Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity.
In a telephone call Sunday, US President Barack Obama told Putin that Washington and its European partners are "prepared" to impose sanctions on Moscow after the referendum and added that Russian military exercises on Ukraine's eastern border only exacerbate tensions. He also said that the referendum violates the Ukrainian constitution and was carried out under the "coercion" of Russian military intervention in the peninsula.