Obama: Crimea separation vote would break law

Earlier, local government officials in Ukraine’s Crimea region set March 16 for the referendum vote

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President Barack Obama warned on Thursday that a referendum in Crimea on joining Russia would be a violation of Ukraine’s constitution and international law.

Obama spoke hours after the United States imposed visa bans on several senior Russian officials and moved towards wider sanctions against individuals and entities in Moscow, to punish Russia’s incursion into Ukraine.

“The proposed referendum on the future of Crimea would violate the Ukrainian constitution and violate international law,” Obama told reporters at the White House, in comments carried by Agence France-Presse.

Earlier, local government officials in Crimea set March 16 for the referendum vote.

“Any discussion about the future of Ukraine must include the legitimate government of Ukraine,” Obama said.

Earlier, Crimea’s parliament, under the de-facto control of pro-Russian forces since the ousting of Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich in February, asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to examine a request for their region to join the Russian Federation.

But Obama rejected the idea.

“In 2014, we are well beyond the days when borders can be redrawn over the heads of democratic leaders,” the U.S. president said.

The U.S. president said that the world was united in its opposition to Russia’s action and in its support for Ukraine, on a day that the European Union also readied sanctions against Russia.

However, he said there remained a way out for Russia, as talks continue between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov met in Rome.

“We call on Russia to take the opportunity before it to resolve this crisis through direct and immediate dialogue with the government of Ukraine,” the White House statement read, the Associated Press reported.

Any forthcoming deal - with global backing - would see elections in Ukraine in May, to allow international election monitors into the country and for Russian forces to keep their Black Sea bases, he said.

“But if this violation of international law continues, the resolve of the United States and our allies and the international community will remain firm,” Obama said.

(With AFP and the Associated Press)

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