Crimea opposed to autonomy for Tatars

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MOSCOW (AFP) – Crimea on Thursday said it was opposed to an autonomous territory for the Tatars, an ethnic minority that was against the Black Sea peninsula’s recent annexation by Russia.

“No, that is not possible, there can only be a cultural autonomy,” Crimean deputy prime minister Roustam Temirgaliev told the Russian news agency Ria Novosti.

Representatives of the Tatar community throughout Crimea held an emergency Qurultai, or congress, last week and decided to seek increased autonomy in a move widely seen as a challenge to the Kremlin.

The Tatars largely boycotted a March 16 referendum in which Crimea’s Russian-speaking majority voted to split from Ukraine and become part of Russia.

Local leaders of the Turkish-speaking Muslim group say they are looking into holding their own referendum on increased autonomy.

The Tatars’ spiritual leader, Mustafa Dzhemilev, is a Ukrainian lawmaker, and many Tatars say they want to be part of Ukraine.

The Crimean Tatars, native inhabitants of the peninsula, spent decades in Central Asia after Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin ordered their banishment, ostensibly for Nazi collaboration.

They were allowed to move back in the late 1980s but are still battling with a host of issues including land ownership.

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