Authorities in Ukraine’s Crimea region are gearing up for a planned referendum on this weekend.
The Moscow-backed vote on whether Crimea should join Russia has been criticised by the West as unconstitutional.
Here in the peninsula’s main administrative city, Simferopol, officials are optimistic.
Vladimir Konstantinov, the parliamentary speaker said:
“All the systems are working. The mood is wonderful. Any organising matters are being resolved. I would like to say to all the Crimeans that we should work like this after the referendum as well. I expect the very high turnout at the polls on March 16.”
Not everybody shares his enthusiasm, though. Several hundred demonstrators loyal to Ukraine appealed to locals in Sevastopol to ignore the referendum. They clashed with pro-Russian protesters. At least 20 people were arrested.
At the Crimea border, Ukrainian authorities have set up three checkpoints. On the Crimean side, pro-Russian self-defense units claim to have discovered weapons and explosives being transported into Crimea.
Meanwhile Ukraine’s interim President Oleksandr Turchynov met with foreign affairs ministers from Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. The Benelux states agree with the EU’s position in the Crimea crisis. They support the territorial integrity and immunity of Ukraine.