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Putin defends separatist drive in Crimea as legal


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KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin is defending the separatist drive in the disputed Crimean Peninsula as in keeping with international law.

Over the weekend, the Kremlin beefed up its military presence in Crimea, a part of Ukraine since 1954, and pro-Russia forces keep pushing for a vote in favor of reunification with Moscow in a referendum the local parliament has scheduled for next Sunday.

President Barack Obama has warned the March 16 vote would violate international law. But in Moscow, Putin made it clear that he supports the referendum in phone calls Sunday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Minister David Cameron.

According to the Kremlin, Putin said "The steps taken by the legitimate leadership of Crimea are based on the norms of international law and aim to ensure the legal interests of the population of the peninsula."

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