Riot police stand at the entrance of the regional administrative building in Donetsk, Ukraine, Friday, March 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
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President Vladimir Putin rebuffed a warning from U.S. President Barack Obama over Moscow's military intervention in Crimea, saying on Friday that Russia could not ignore calls for help from Russian speakers in Ukraine.The most serious east-west confrontation since the end of the Cold War -- resulting from the overthrow last month of President Viktor Yanukovich after violent protests in Kiev -- escalated on Thursday when Crimea's parliament, dominated by ethnic Russians, voted to join Russia.European Union leaders and Obama denounced the referendum as illegitimate, saying it would violate Ukraine's constitution.Before calling Putin, Obama announced the first sanctions against Russia since the start of the crisis, ordering visa bans and asset freezes against so far unidentified persons deemed responsible for threatening Ukraine's sovereignty.Putin was defiant on Ukraine, where he said the pro-Russian Yanukovich had been ousted in an "anti-constitutional coup".Ukrainian television was switched off in Crimea on Thursday and replaced with Russian state channels.Part of the Crimea's 2 million population opposes Moscow's rule, including members of the region's ethnic Russian majority.
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