Russian ruling party leader says occupied Ukrainian regions should vote on Nov. 4 on joining Russia

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Secretary of the United Russia Party's General Council Turchak is seen before President Putin's annual address to the Federal Assembly in Moscow

LONDON (Reuters) - The leader of Russia's governing party said on Wednesday that people in occupied regions of Ukraine should vote on Nov. 4 on whether they wanted to become part of Russia.

Andrei Turchak of President Vladimir Putin's United Russia party said it would be "correct and symbolic" to hold votes on that date, a Russian public holiday which is celebrated as the Day of National Unity. In any case, he said votes would "definitely" take place this year.

More than six months after invading its neighbour, Russia controls about a fifth of Ukraine's territory and has moved to "Russify" occupied areas, including by handing out Russian passports and imposing a new school curriculum and TV programming.

The planned votes would mirror one held in occupied Crimea in 2014 after Russia had annexed it from Ukraine by force. Ukraine and Western governments denounced that referendum as illegal, and the United States has said Moscow is trying to follow the same "playbook" now.

Officials in Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine had previously suggested that votes on joining Russia would be held on Sept. 11, to coincide with local elections in Russia.

However, Ukrainian counteroffensives have seen the date postponed as Russia's hold on parts of southern and eastern Ukraine has appeared shaky.

On Monday, Kirill Stremousov, an official in the Russian-appointed government of Kherson region, said that plans for a referendum had been "paused". On Wednesday, TASS news agency cited Stremousov as saying he was in "solidarity" with Turchak and the region was preparing to hold a vote on Nov. 4.

A low-profile holiday that celebrates Russian resistance to seventeenth century Polish invasions, Russia's Day of National Unity replaced in 2005 a Soviet-era celebration marking the anniversary of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.

(Reporting by Reuters)