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Ukraine's Separatists To Proceed With Vote, Despite Putin

Pro-Russian separatists say they'll hold a referendum Sunday on seceding from Ukraine, despite Russian President Vladimir Putin's comments that they should wait to hold the vote. Thursday, a gunman installs a banner reading "Do not forget, do not forgive!" in eastern Ukraine.
Darko Vojinovic

A day after Russian President Vladimir Putin told separatists in Ukraine they should postpone a referendum on secession, leaders of the group say they'll hold the vote this Sunday as planned.

The decision was announced by a committee heading the so-called Donetsk People's Republic in eastern Ukraine. The group held a news conference Thursday to say they would go ahead with plans to hold the vote.

"They feel that this is the people's choice — that they respect Mr. Putin, but this path of a referendum will lead to the peace that Mr. Putin wants," NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports from Donetsk.

As we reported Wednesday, Putin's remarks came during meetings with the head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

"We are asking representative of the South-East of Ukraine, the supporters of federalisation to postpone the referendum slated for May 11 in order to create proper conditions for this dialogue," Putin said, according to Russia's state-run ITAR-TASS News Agency.

Putin also made other statements that struck a softer tone on Ukraine, including a promise that Russia is ready for talks to resolve the crisis and a statement (unverified by independent reports) that Russia was withdrawing its troops from the border.

Putin also said that Ukraine's planned May 25 presidential election is a step "in the right direction."

Ukrainian officials say they will continue military operations to retake buildings and territory from separatist pro-Russian militants.

"The counterterrorist operation will go on regardless of any decisions by any subversive or terrorist groups in the Donetsk region," the BBCquotes national security council secretary Andriy Parubiy as saying.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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