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A Russian soldier stands guard on a chimney decorated with Russian national flags at the Ukrainian navy headquarters in Sevastopol. / Viktor Drachev, AFP/Getty Images

MOSCOW (AP) - The Russian parliament's lower house has endorsed the country's annexation of Crimea.

The Kremlin-controlled State Duma voted Thursday to allow Crimea to join Russia following a quick discussion in which members assailed the Ukrainian authorities.

The merger needs to be rubber-stamped by the upper house and signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, formalities expected to be completed by the end of the week.

The endorsement follows Crimea's referendum last weekend where there was overwhelming support for breaking off from Ukraine and joining Russia.

The vote, held just two weeks after the Black Sea peninsula was overtaken by Russian forces, has been rejected as unlawful by Ukraine and Western powers. The United States and the European Union have responded by slapping some limited sanctions on Russia.



Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Read the original story: Russian lawmakers seal annexation of Crimea

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