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Crowds in Moscow, Sevastopol, cheer parades as Ukraine crisis si - 12 News KBMT and K-JAC. News, Weather and Sports for SE Texas

Crowds in Moscow, Sevastopol, cheer parades as Ukraine crisis simmers

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By Laura Smith-Spark, Phil Black and Matthew Chance

SEVASTOPOL, Crimea (CNN) -- Crowds packed the streets of Moscow and the Crimean city of Sevastopol on Friday for Victory Day parades in an annual show of nationalistic fervor heightened by Russia's recent annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

The military parades, held each year to mark the defeat of Nazi Germany, come amid soaring tensions in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists are planning a weekend referendum on autonomy.

Tanks, rocket launchers and even intercontinental ballistic missiles were paraded through Red Square in a Soviet-style display of military might, as tens of thousands of people watched and cheered, waving Russian flags.

In televised remarks, Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed his nation's "all conquering patriotism."

There was also a big turnout in Sevastopol, likely boosted by speculation -- unconfirmed by the Kremlin -- that Putin might make a personal appearance for the Victory Day celebrations.

A big display is planned for the afternoon involving Russian warships on the Black Sea. Sevastopol hosts a key Russian naval base.

A large majority in Sevastopol, as well as across the Crimean peninsula, voted in favor of seceding from Ukraine and joining Russia in a controversial referendum in March. Moscow's annexation of the Black Sea territory, which was part of Russia until 1954 and has a majority ethnic Russian population, followed swiftly on.

Sevastopol residents told a CNN team that they were proud and happy to be part of Russia again.

Their fervor comes despite a chaotic process of transition and the continued presence on the streets of local "self-defense" units, or militias, known as the "men in green."

Not everyone is delighted by Russia's annexation of Crimea, however. The indigenous ethnic minority Tatar population opposed the move.

One local Tatar leader, Abduraman Egiz, told CNN he was beaten up by a group of "men in green" after they demanded to see his identification documents.

"We as the community, we cannot guarantee the security of our people," he said.

Postponement call

Less than two months after Crimea was wrested from Ukraine's grasp, there are fears other parts of the country could go the same way.

Pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine said Thursday that they had decided to go ahead with a Sunday referendum on greater local powers, defying a call by Putin to postpone the vote.

Putin had urged the pro-Russia sympathizers to delay the referendum to give dialogue "the conditions it needs to have a chance."

But representatives from the council of the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic and separatists from Luhansk told reporters they had voted to press ahead to ask eastern Ukrainians there if they want sovereignty from Kiev.

The West, which also condemned Russia's annexation of Crimea, has opposed the move.

"On the local 'referenda,' we strongly emphasize that they should not take place -- neither on 11 May nor at any later date," said Maja Kocijancic, spokeswoman for the European Union's top diplomat, Catherine Ashton.

"Such unauthorized local 'referenda' have no democratic legitimacy and can only lead to further escalation."

Authorities in Ukraine have scaled back Victory Day events in the capital, Kiev, and elsewhere, anxious to avoid any big celebrations or demonstrations of support for Russia that could spark violence.

Odessa and Kharkiv have canceled all big public events, while Luhansk has asked groups to avoid gathering in the city. The city of Donetsk, however, is pushing ahead with an official program of events, and an unofficial march and rally is planned.

In Kiev, the events will be limited to the laying of flowers by Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and acting President Oleksandr Turchynov, a small veterans' rally and concert.

Diplomatic maneuvers

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke by phone with both Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Yatsenyuk on Thursday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

In his conversation with Lavrov, Kerry focused on the importance of de-escalation, disarming separatists and taking steps to evacuate seized public buildings, Psaki said.

Kerry also talked about the international community's support for dialogue within Ukraine and the presidential elections planned for May 25, she said.

An international pact reached among Russia, Ukraine and its Western allies in Geneva, Switzerland, last month that called for the rebels to disarm and vacate buildings seized in the volatile eastern region has not yet materialized.
   
 CNN's Phil Black reported from Sevastopol and Matthew Chance from Moscow, while Laura Smith-Spark wrote and reported in London. CNN's Kellie Morgan and Laura Koran contributed to this report.
   
 The-CNN-Wire
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