Pro-Russian insurgents claimed voters supported succession overwhelmingly after a disputed referendum Sunday in eastern Ukraine that could deepen turmoil and further set Russia against the West.
Just two hours after polling closed, insurgents declared that almost 90% of voters backed sovereignty on their paper ballots.
Roman Lyagin, election chief of the self-styled Donetsk People's Republic, said votes had already been counted. He said about 75% of the Donetsk region's 3 million eligible voters cast ballots, and the vast majority backed self-rule, the Associated Press reported.
With no international election monitors, it was impossible to verify the claims.
In Krasnoarmeisk, about 20 miles from Donetsk, Ukraine national guardsmen opened fire on a crowd outside a town hall where voting was taking place, the AP reported. Denis Pushilin, an insurgent leader in the region, told ITAR-Tass news agency that there had been fatalities, but it was not clear how many.
Voting took place in towns controlled by pro-Russian separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in eastern Ukraine, despite a call from Russian President Vladimir Putin to postpone the poll.
Ukraine's Foreign Ministry called the voting a "criminal farce."
In parts of the eastern region, long lines formed outside hastily improvised polling centers where ballots were made using a regular printer and contained no special registration marks.
There was only one question on the ballots, written in Ukrainian and Russian: "Do you support the act of state self-rule of the Donetsk People's Republic?" Many completed ballots were visible inside the transparent ballot boxes, marked "Yes."
Independent observers reported a number of irregularities at polling stations, with some people seen voting twice.
Pro-independence "self-defense" militia oversaw polling stations in Donetsk because of a lack of enthusiasm from local police, said Yevgeny Afinogeyev, deputy chairman of a polling station in the city.
"Our local officials who are motivated only by their corrupt interests are putting sticks in the wheels," Afinogeyev said. "They are traitors."
Some locals who said they were against independence opted not to vote at all. "There is no third way anymore. You have to be either for or against. But why should I hate my own country? So they proclaim independence, but then what?" said Vyacheslav Fomenko of Donetsk.
Arutunyan reported from Kiev
Original headline: Gunfire as east Ukraine votes
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