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Members of an election committee empty a ballot box after voting closed at a polling station in Donetsk, Ukraine, on May 11. / Evgeniy Maloletka, AP

DONETSK, Ukraine - The self-styled Donetsk People's Republic declared eastern Ukraine a "sovereign state" Monday and called on Russia to annex the territory following controversial referendums, RT.com reports.

The referendums Sunday in the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces have been denounced by the U.S., European Union and Kiev government.

"We, the people of Donetsk, based on results of the May 11 referendum and the declaration of sovereignty of the Donetsk People's Republic, declare that from now on DPR is now a sovereign state," said Denis Pushilin, co-chairman of the separatist group, the Russian-owned news agency reports.

"We will try to cope with it on our own; we don't want this confrontation to increase, especially on our territory," he said. "If the situation deteriorates, we reserve the right to ask for a peacekeeping contingent."

For its part, Russia called Monday for dialogue and a "civilized" implementation of the results of the balloting in Donetsk and Luhansk.

In Brussels, the European Union council on Monday refused to recognize the referendums in eastern Ukraine and broadened its sanctions list against Russia to include 13 more people and two businesses, officials said.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Monday before the meeting of 28 foreign ministers that it is essential to show Moscow that the bloc is ready to step up measures "depending on Russia's attitude toward the elections" in Ukraine.

He joined other ministers in dismissing Sunday's referendums as shams of democracy, saying "they are illegal by anybody's standards." Ukraine's Foreign Ministry called the voting a "criminal farce.''

About 90% of voters in Ukraine's sprawling industrial heartland reportedly backed their regions' sovereignty in the controversial referendums on Sunday.

Moscow said the results of the vote should now be implemented without resorting to violence, and that it should be done in a "civilized way." The Kremlin's brief remarks were carried by Russia's Interfax news agency. Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin had called on the separatist forces to postpone the referendum.

On Monday, Russia suggested that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe could be brought in to help mediate the dialogue between Ukraine's government and representatives of the east.

However, acting Ukrainian President Oleksander Turchinov said in a statement: "These processes are inspired by the leadership of the Russian Federation and are destructive to the Donetsk and Luhansk regions' economies and threaten the lives and welfare of citizens and have the aim of destabilizing the situation in Ukraine."

The EU visa bans and asset freeze now cover 61 people and for the first time it includes businesses, according to two officials who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the measure had yet to be officially announced.

The purported decision to broaden the list follows a preliminary approval by EU officials last week to allow sanctions against companies, as the Obama administration has done in a separate U.S. sanctions list that targets several close associates of Putin and their assets.

Ukraine is scheduled to hold presidential and parliamentary elections May 25 under terms of an agreement that ended intense protests by pro-Western demonstrators against the Kiev government in February. The political unrest also drove President Viktor Yankovych, a Putin ally, from office. Pro-Russia elements in the east have likened the downfall of the Kiev government as a coup by pro-Western forces.

Locals in Donetsk - where streets had remained calm Sunday - were split on whether to vote for secession or remain part of Ukraine, with a number intimidated by the armed militants occupying the regional council building in the center of the city. Many of those who said they were against independence were opting not to vote at all.

"There is no third way anymore. You have to be either for or against. But why should I hate my own country? So they proclaim independence, but then what?" said Vyacheslav Fomenko, an entrepreneur in Donetsk.

The pro-Russia insurgents who organized the vote said the ultimate status of the regions would be discussed later and could include the possibility of secession or annexation by Russia.

Ukraine's central government and the West have condemned the balloting as a sham and a violation of international law, and accused Moscow of fomenting the unrest in a possible attempt to grab more land weeks after the annexation of Crimea.

Walker also reported from Makiivka. Arutunyan reported from Kiev. Contributing: Doug Stanglin reported from McLean, Va.; the Associated Press.



Copyright 2014USA TODAY

Read the original story: Ukraine separatists ask Russia to annex 'sovereign' area

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