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By Richard Balmforth and Mike Collett-White KIEV/SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine (Reuters) - Pro-Russian leaders in Crimea made final preparations on Saturday for a referendum widely expected to transfer control of the Black Sea region from Ukraine to Moscow, despite an outcry and threat of sanctions from the West. Russia vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution that declared the referendum invalid, as Ukraine's defense ministry said it scrambled aircraft and paratroops to confront a Russian encroachment beyond Crimea's regional boundary. Ukraine's new rulers accused "Kremlin agents" of fomenting deadly violence in the Russian-speaking east and urged people not to respond to provocations Kiev fears Moscow may use to justify further incursions its takeover of Crimea.
By Crispian Balmer JERUSALEM (Reuters) - With pessimism growing by the day over the future of Middle East peace talks, U.S. President Barack Obama will meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Washington on Monday to try to break the stalemate. The deadline for the negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, aimed at ending their entrenched conflict, expires next month and Washington is eager to persuade the two sides to prolong their discussions within a new framework. After eight months of initial talks, and at least 10 trips to the region, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sounded unusually gloomy during a Congressional hearing on March 12, indicating that little progress had been made so far. Obama's direct involvement is aimed at providing much needed additional impetus: he saw Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this month, and is now meeting Abbas.