Eastern Ukraine separatists declare referendum victory amid irregularities

Pro-Russian fighters vote during an independence referendum at their position in the eastern Ukranian city of Slavyansk on May 11, 2014.  VASILY MAXIMOV/AFP/Getty Images

DONETSK, Ukraine - Pro-Russian insurgents in eastern Ukraine say preliminary results of a contentious referendum show nearly 90 percent of voters have supported sovereignty for their region.

Roman Lyagin, election chief of the self-styled Donetsk People's Republic, said around 75 percent of the region's 3 million voters cast ballots Sunday.

With no independent observers monitoring the vote, however, verifying the figures will prove problematic.

The referendum took place amid sustained condemnation from the central government in Kiev and the Western community.

A rebel movement has emerged in eastern Ukraine over recent weeks in response to the ascent to power of the leadership that toppled pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych in February after months of public protests.

CBS News correspondent Clarissa Ward reports from eastern Ukraine there were glaring irregularities with the vote, and that it did not come anywhere near international standards. Booths out in the open, people openly voting twice, and other irregularities raised serious questions about the legitimacy or the operation.

The European Union said as soon as voting wrapped up it will not recognize the outcome of the vote

The ballot had just one question: Do you support the independence of the Donetsk People's Republic?

"We love Ukraine," voter Capitalina Federovna told CBS News. "But our government took power illegally and they're destroying our country."

In one of several outbreaks of violence around the east on Sunday, Ukrainian national guardsmen opened fire on a crowd in the town of Krasnoarmeisk outside the town hall after shutting down the voting. One person died.

It was the latest in a string of clashes with the military that for many here have only strengthened the desire for independence.

Ward reports there is still a significant part of the population who don't support the separatist movement and who boycotted Sunday's referendum. Many of those people are very concerned that its results will only bring more violence.

Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of fomenting or even directing the unrest in the east, with the goal of destabilizing Ukraine or finding a pretext for invasion. Russia has rejected the accusations.

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