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Pro-Russian activists with clubs and whips clashed with pro-Kiev supporters Sunday as tens of thousands rallied across Ukraine in rival protests, and Russian President Vladimir Putin dug in his heels in the standoff with the West. German Chancellor Angela Merkel delivered a strong rebuke to the Russian strongman, telling him a planned Crimean referendum on joining the Russian Federation was illegal and deploring the lack of progress on creating an international diplomatic group to resolve the crisis. In phone conversations with Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron, Putin in turn accused Ukraine's new leaders of failing to rein in "ultra-nationalist and radical forces". Defying Western condemnation of the March 16 referendum, he asserted the pro-Russian authorities in Crimea organising the vote were legitimate and acting "based on international law".