Simferopol: The voter turnout of the ongoing 2014 Crimea referendum on the future of the peninsula hit 63.97 percent during afternoon, five hours before the scheduled end of the vote at 8.00 p.m, the referendum commission said Sunday.
Mikhail Malyshev, chairman of the referendum commission, told a press briefing that the turnout rate has reached 63.97 percent, and the city of Kerch, which borders Russia, scored the highest at 75.6 percent, Xinhua reported. A referendum to decide whether Crimea will break away from Ukraine proceeded smoothly at some 1,200 polling booths across the autonomous republic and many youngsters had come to the polls already, a Bulgarian observer said.
Polling stations in the Black Sea island republic started 8 a.m. Sunday. Monitoring the referendum are 135 foreign observers from 23 countries and 1,240 local ones. The controversial vote also attracted some 2,500 journalists from around the world. The final results of the referendum will not be announced until Monday. But an exit poll has been commissioned by the Kryminform news service.
Meanwhile, a joint statement issued Sunday by European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, said the referendum in Crimea is "illegal and illegitimate" and its outcome "will not be recognised". Crimea held referendums in 1991 and 1994. This year's referendum asks voters whether they want to reunify with Russia or they want to remain within Ukraine with the peninsula's 1992 constitution restored to give Crimea greater autonomy.
"We have inspected 1,169 polling stations," Xinhua quoted Ivan Abazher from the non-governmental Observer Council -- Crimean Choice as saying. "We saw no violations or provocations. Voter activity in Crimea is unprecedented. Many young people have already come to the polls." The voter turnout rate, which stood at 44.27 percent four hours after the polls opened, has reached 54 percent at the halfway point, the Autonomous Republic of Crimea (ARC), which holds the All-Crimea Referendum commission earlier said.
A simple majority is required to approve the final result through the referendum. The 12-hour vote, which is the third in the history of the peninsula of Crimea. A Russian monitor, Maksim Grigoryev from the Civic Chamber of Russia, said voters were going to polling stations as if it were a matter of life and death. He noted that even very old men and women and people with disabilities joined Sunday's plebiscite.
Pavel Chernev, another Bulgarian observer and also a member of parliament, described the ongoing referendum as "100 percent in line with European standards" in terms of the organisation and procedures. The Bulgarian lawmaker even noticed that a mobile ballot box has been used for people with advanced age.
Mikhail Malyshev, chairman of the referendum commission, clarified an allegation that some of the polling stations in Bakhchisaray with predominant Crimean Tatar population did not work. In another development, Russian President Vladimir Putin told German Chancellor Angela Merkel Sunday that the ongoing Crimea referendum does not breach international law.
"Putin said the Crimean population's vote is proceeding in full compliance with international law, in particular with Article 1 of the U.N. Charter that stipulates the principle of equality and self-determination of peoples," the Kremlin reported citing a telephonic conversation between the two leaders. "Russia will respect the choice of Crimean residents," Putin said, adding that he was concerned about the aggravation of the situation in eastern and southeastern regions of Ukraine.