(AsiaNews) - Tatars and pro-Ukraine Crimeans gathered today in Simferopol at
the foot of the monument dedicated to Taras Shevchenko, Ukraine's national poet,
to demonstrate and pray "for peace and the integrity of Crimea", following
the local parliament's vote yesterday for annexation to Russia.
The issue is of
particular concern to the minorities living in the historically pro-Russian peninsula,
like the Muslim Tatars (12 per cent) and ethnic Ukrainians (about 26 per cent),
now that a referendum is scheduled for 16 March to ratify the parliament's
has already been backed by Moscow.
Away from the
watchful eyes of Cossacks and pro-Russian militia patrolling most of the city
centre, a few dozen demonstrators gathered in the park, summoned via Twitter by the "Euromaidan of
balloons and Ukrainian flags, they briefly prayed for peace alongside a
delegation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyiv Patriarchate.
The Church delegation
was led by the Metropolitan of Simferopol Kliment, who released some doves to
emphasise the peaceful nature of the initiative.
not a political rally," said Archimandrite Feodor. "We only want the calls for
peace and Ukraine's integrity to be heard," he explained.
leader had just arrived from Poltava in Eastern Ukraine where he says many
afraid of possible annexation to Russia.
Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate did not back the gathering. "We
did not ask them to join us because for them it is much more difficult," the
people in the square, fear prevails. "If you express a pro-Ukrainian position in
the Crimea today, you could be literally killed or at least attacked," the Archimandrite
said. "It was not like this before. This is the consequences of propaganda coming
from the Russian Federation."
On one thing the
priest said he was optimistic, namely the process of dialogue and reunification
of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate with the Kyiv-based
have been very active with respect to Maidan (Independence) Square, backing peaceful
protests and acting as mediators when they turned violent.
started again," the Archimandrite said. "A committee has been set up to speed
up the process, so there will be a single Ukrainian Orthodox Church."
Muslims held Friday prayers today in the region's mosques for "peace and
harmony across the Crimea."
At the same time,
international pressure is growing against Russia and the Crimean parliament's
decision to hold referendum on annexation to Russia.
States and European Union have unveiled a co-ordinated set of sanctions against
Russia if it does accepted a negotiated solution in the Ukraine.
The United States
announced that visa bans would affect a number of Russian officials. US President
Barack Obama also signed a number of financial sanctions. The EU has
blocked visas and trade.
As a result of tensions
in the Crimea, the rouble lost 10 per cent of its value. Russian companies also
risk losing US$ 8 billion in international loans.
part, China continues to favour a diplomatic solution, noting, "that the
legitimate rights and interests of all ethnic groups in Ukraine should be
accommodated in handling the Ukraine issue".
Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk said Kiev is also ready to talk to Moscow,
ready that is, for "co-operation, but not surrender".
and tensions in Crimea have raised fears in other former Soviet republics, especially
in the Baltic states.
president Dalia Grybauskaite called on the European Union to counter Russia's
"open and brutal aggression". In her view, "If we allow this [Crimea's
annexation to Russia] to happen, next will be somebody else." (MA)