The so-called "Maidan self defense unit", wearing police uniforms, carry weapons outside Ukrainian parliament in Kiev on March 4, 2014. UPI/Ivan Vakolenko | License Photo
SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine, March 6 (UPI) -- Lawmakers in Ukraine's autonomous Crimea decided Thursday to hold a referendum on whether the embattled peninsula should secede and become part of Russia.
A statement on the Parliament's website said the March 16 referendum will ask voters whether the peninsula should become part of Russia or remain an autonomous region within the Ukraine, RIA Novosti reported.
Russian President Vladimir Putin met with senior officials in an emergency session of his Security Council to discuss the decision by Crimea's parliament, Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
Putin said Tuesday Russia wasn't considering annexing Crimea.
Rallies across the pro-Russia peninsula following the formation of the new government in Kiev have openly called for secession. Crimean officials have refused to recognize the new central government in Kiev, which ousted President Viktor Yanukovych on Feb. 22.
Yanukovych, who fled to Russia, has maintained he is Ukraine's legitimate leader, a position backed by Putin. Protests in the pro-Europe western part of the country began in November when Yanukovych rejected signing political and trade agreements with the European Union, and leaned toward closer ties with Russia.
Thousands of troops without any identifiable insignia have taken control of Ukrainian military bases across Crimea. Putin has denied that Russian troops have been deployed and has characterized the masked soldiers seen traveling in vehicles bearing Russian license plates as "local militia."
The Crimea referendum originally was scheduled for May 25, the same day as Ukraine's early presidential election.
On Wednesday, Crimean officials announced they would establish their own law enforcement and security agencies.
Also Wednesday, a U.S. anchor at the government-funded Russian television news channel RT resigned on air, saying the network glosses over Putin's actions, RIA Novosti reported.
"I cannot be part of a network funded by the Russian government that whitewashes the actions of Putin," Liz Wahl said. "I believe in disseminating the truth, and that is why, after this newscast, I'm resigning."
RT condemned her public resignation in a statement, calling it "nothing more than a self-promotional stunt."
Several days earlier, another RT personality, Abby Martin, condemned Russian intervention in the Crimea, saying "what Russia did is wrong."
In a statement, RT said Martin would be sent to Crimea "to give her an opportunity to make up her own mind from the epicenter of the story."