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Fireworks exploded and Russian flags fluttered above jubilant crowds Sunday after residents in Crimea voted overwhelmingly to secede from Ukraine and join Russia.The referendum offered voters the choice of seeking annexation with Russia or remaining in Ukraine with greater autonomy. After 50 percent of the ballots were counted, Mikhail Malishev, head of the referendum committee, said more than 95 percent of voters had approved joining Russia. Ukraine's new prime minister insisted that neither Ukraine nor the West would recognize the vote.Russia raised the stakes Saturday when its forces, backed by helicopter gunships and armored vehicles, took control of the Ukrainian village of Strilkove and a key natural gas distribution plant nearby – the first Russian military move into Ukraine beyond the Crimean peninsula of 2 million people.
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