President Barack Obama speaks during the Easter Prayer Breakfast, Monday, April 14, 2014, in the East Room of the White House in Washington.(AP/Carolyn Kaster)
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US President Barack Obama urged Russian leader Vladimir Putin in a phone call Monday to press pro-Moscow groups to lay down their arms in Ukraine, as the Kiev government sought UN help to tackle the growing insurgency.Putin told Obama that Russia was not sponsoring the Kalashnikov-toting separatists who have seized a string of key state buildings in eastern Ukraine, according to the Kremlin's account of the phone call between the two leaders.Ukraine's Western-backed interim President Oleksandr Turchynov meanwhile sought a way out of the escalating crisis by proposing a referendum on greater autonomy for the country's regions and seeking help from the United Nations.Hundreds of people demonstrated in Kiev late Monday calling for a tough response against the pro-Russian insurgents and the sacking of Ukraine's Interior Minister Arsen Avakov.Russia has deployed 40,000 troops along Ukraine's eastern border, a presence the US and EU sought to counter by approving more than $2 billion in aid for Kiev's embattled interim administration.Washington has previously advised Kiev to devolve powers in order to avoid eastern Ukraine going the same way as Crimea, which Russia annexed last month.
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