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SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine -- Crimea's pro-Russia administration in Simferopol has announced a March 16 referendum on whether Crimea should become part of Russia. Critics fear the move is a pretext toward secession and the eventual annexation by the Russian Federation.

"This is our response to the disorder and lawlessness in Kiev," Sergei Shuvainikov, a member of the local Crimean legislature, told the Associated Press. "We will decide our future ourselves."

The parliament in Crimea enjoys a degree of autonomy under current Ukrainian law. Referendum voters will choose between joining Russia or remaining part of Ukraine, but with enhanced local powers.

There was no immediate response from the Ukrainian central government to the vote. On Wednesday, Ukraine's prime minister told the Associated Press that Crimea would remain part of Ukraine.

Sevastopol's newly installed mayor, Alexei Chaly, earlier said that the port city will boycott Ukraine's national elections slated for May 25, but the announced referendum may make that a moot point.

"Sevastopol refused to take part in the elections that were imposed by the illegitimate authorities," Chaly said in remarks quoted by Interfax news agency.

Sevastopol is home to both Russia and Ukraine's Black Sea fleet which are locked in a standoff with Russian vessels blockading two Ukrainian warships in Sevastopol Bay.

Ukraine's acting naval commander Serhiy Hayduk said his forces are trying to prevent bloodshed between the two navies. "We are trying at all costs to prevent bloodshed and civilian casualties," he said in remarks quoted by Interfax.

Russian businessman Alexei Chaly took control of the Sevastopol's administration Feb. 23 following the resignation of the Kiev-appointed mayor after a rally of pro-Russia supporters forced a change of administration.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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