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Lawmakers on the flashpoint Crimean peninsula voted on Tuesday for independence from Ukraine ahead of a referendum on joining Russia while Washington rebuffed talks with Moscow in one of their fiercest clashes since the Cold War.The latest escalation of Europe's worst crisis in decades came moments after ousted president Viktor Yanukovych defiantly vowed to return to Kiev from Russia and declared he was still the head of the ex-Soviet state.The first region to take the radical step of breaking away from Ukraine was Crimea -- a peninsula of two million people that had always enjoyed wide autonomy and was a part of Russia until being handed over as a symbolic "gift" to Kiev in 1954 when its was still a part of the Soviet empire.The body had earlier voted to actually join Russia and the latest move appeared to be primarily aimed at creating a legal framework for applying to become a part of Russia as a sovereign state.The US State Department did not directly confirm Kerry had rejected a visit to Russia that could have included talks with Putin.
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