MOSCOW (Reuters) - The pro-Russia prime minister of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula has defended a decision to hold a referendum on whether the region should join Russia, saying on Saturday that "no one" could cancel the voting.
On Thursday, Crimea's parliament, dominated by ethnic Russians, voted to join Russia and set a referendum for March 16, escalating the crisis.
The conflict resulted from the overthrow last month of President Viktor Yanukovich after protests in Kiev that led to violence.
European Union leaders and the U.S. President Barack Obama have said the referendum plan is illegitimate and would violate Ukraine's constitution.
But Sergei Aksyonov said the local government would go ahead with the public vote.
"The Supreme Council deputies of Crimea have univocally fulfilled the decision of the Crimeans, they voted for holding the referendum on March 16, and no one is able to cancel it," he was quoted by Itar-Tass state news agency as saying to Russian television.
He said the referendum was called at such short notice to "avoid provocations, as the situation in Ukraine is quite tense".
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Alison Williams)