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US to maintain Crimea sanctions until Russian rule ends

People holding Crimean flags in Simferopol's Lenin Square, on March 15, 2014Washington vowed Monday to keep sanctions on Moscow for the annexation of Crimea as long as the peninsula remains under Russian rule, urging Russian President Vladimir Putin to end the occupation. “On this one-year anniversary of the sham ‘referendum’ in Crimea, held in clear violation of Ukrainian law and the Ukrainian constitution, the United States reiterates its condemnation of a vote that was not voluntary, transparent, or democratic,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. Russia has kicked off three days of celebrations in Crimea to mark a year since it annexed the peninsula following a referendum in a historic shift blasted by the West and Ukraine as an illegal takeover. Pro-Russian authorities said nearly 97 percent of Crimeans voted to leave Ukraine and become part of Russia, but with no independent observers allowed the poll was widely dismissed abroad.

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