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Crimea's parliament declares independence, moves to make it real

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine – The Crimean parliament on Monday declared the region independent of Ukraine, a first step toward the goal backed by 96% of voters during a weekend referendum: becoming part of Russia.

The peninsula's pro-Moscow parliament adopted Moscow time as its own starting March 30, moving clocks forward two hours, and declared the Russian ruble to become the region’s official currency, though the Ukrainian hrivna will remain in circulation until Jan. 1, 2016.

A few days before the referendum, the local banks stopped serving customers and cash machines around the peninsula quickly ran out of cash.

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Ukraine acting President Olexandr Turchinov called the Crimean referendum a farce orchestrated by Moscow and declared a partial military mobilization. The decision was motivated by “the continued military aggression in Crimea, which Russia is attempting to cover up,” Turchinov told his nation’s parliament in Kiev on Monday, UNIAN news agency reported.

In Crimea, Vladimir Konstantinov, speaker of the regional parliament, appealed to thousands of Ukraine army and navy officers and soldiers to join what he said was the peninsula's newly formed armed forces.

“Those who out of their conviction don't accept Crimean independence and remain loyal to Ukraine will not be prosecuted,” Konstantinov said in televised remarks Monday. “They can continue [military service] in Ukraine's army outside Crimea.”

Taxes and other payments, including pensions and social fees, will continue to be paid throughout 2014 according to Ukraine's legislation, said a statement on the regional parliament's website.

The process of joining Russia, which could begin as early as Tuesday, requires a number of procedural steps involving both houses of Russian parliament, Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation, Sergei Naryshkin, the speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament, said in televised remarks Sunday night.

Crimean parliament, which renamed itself as the State Council, also created the republic's Border Service and a number of other ministries on Sunday and moved to begin nationalizing the assets of the Ukrainian government and state companies on the peninsula.

The State Council also increased the regional budget from about $600 million to about $1.2 billion upon the news that Russia was already rendering financial assistance to the breakaway region.

“Today the Russian Federation delivered the republic financial aid equal to 15 billion rubles [about $416 million],” pro-Moscow regional Premier Sergei Aksenov wrote in his Tweeter account Monday.

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