March 9 - Thousands of supporters of Russia gathered at Simferopol's Lenin square in Ukraine's Crimea on Sunday in support of an annexation of the region by Russia. Rough Cut (no reporter narration).
ROUGH CUT (NO REPORTER NARRATION) Thousands of supporters of Russia gathered at Simferopol's Lenin square in Ukraine's Crimea on Sunday in support of an annexation of the region by Russia. During a traditional seasonal concert, the crowd listened to speeches announcing the Crimean Spring with Russia. Crimean and Russian flags over the crowd as a Russian Black Sea Fleet band played patriotic songs. The rally comes exactly a week before a March 16 referendum on annexation. Sergei Tsekov, the Deputy Chairman of the Supreme Council of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, told the crowd, "We will be happy in one week's time because we will do what we have been waiting to do for many many years," in reference to the upcoming referendum to join Russia. Russian forces have tightened their grip on Crimea despite a U.S. warning to Moscow that annexing the southern Ukrainian region would close the door to diplomacy in a tense East-West standoff. Russian forces' seizure of the Black Sea peninsula has been bloodless but tensions are mounting following the decision by pro-Russian groups that have taken over the regional parliament to make Crimea part of Russia. The operation to seize Crimea began within days of Ukraine's pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovich's flight from the country last month. Yanukovich was toppled after three months of demonstrations against a decision to spurn a free trade deal with the European Union for closer ties with Russia. President Vladimir Putin declared a week ago that Russia had the right to invade Ukraine to protect Russian citizens, and his parliament has voted to change the law to make it easier to annex territory inhabited by Russian speakers.