Crimea Tatars call off deportation ceremony after ban

17th May 2014, Comments 0 comments

Leaders of Crimea's Tatar community on Saturday called off a ceremony to commemorate 70 years since their deportation by Stalin, after an official ban and fears of unrest.

Tensions have risen between local authorities and the Tatars -- Turkic-speaking Muslims who make up about 12 percent of Crimea's population -- since Russia's annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula in March.

In a statement on its website the Tatar assembly, the Mejlis, said it had decided to cancel Sunday's ceremony in the regional capital Simferopol.

"No mass rallies will take place in the centre of Simferopol," it said, calling instead for Tatars to gather at religious centres and for smaller ceremonies at the railway station and a city park.

Authorities in Crimea had on Friday banned all public gatherings until June 6 amid fears they would descend into violence.

Tens of thousands usually gather in central Simferopol for the rally, marking the day on May 18, 1944, when Soviet secret police began shipping Crimean Tatars to Central Asia.

Some 200,000 Crimean Tatars were deported, accused of collaborating with Nazi Germany during its World War II occupation of the Black Sea peninsula.

Many families returned in the late 1980s but tensions remain high amid lingering distrust and disputes over land ownership.

The United Nations on Friday voiced concern about "serious problems" of harassment and persecution of the community since the annexation.

US Secretary of State John Kerry also denounced fresh rights abuses, saying in a statement: "Murder, beatings and the kidnapping of Crimean Tatars and others have become standard fare."

© 2014 AFP

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