AP News in Brief at 5:58 a.m. EST

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Associated Press

Posted on February 8, 2014 at 6:02 AM

Updated Saturday, Feb 8 at 6:02 AM

Not gonna get us! Russia sets aside troubles, kicks off Sochi Games with hope and some hubris

SOCHI, Russia (AP) — A Russia in search of global vindication kicked off the Sochi Olympics looking more like a Russia that likes to party, with a pulse-raising opening ceremony about fun and sports instead of terrorism, gay rights and coddling despots.

And that's just the way Russian President Vladimir Putin wants these Winter Games to be.

The world's premier athletes on ice and snow have more to worry about than geopolitics as they plunge into the biggest challenges of their lives on the mountain slopes of the Caucasus and in the wet-paint-fresh arenas on the shores of the Black Sea.

But watch out for those Russians on their home turf. A raucous group of Russian athletes had a message for their nearly 3,000 rivals in Sochi, marching through Fisht Stadium singing that they're "not gonna get us!"

Superlatives abounded and the mood soared as Tchaikovsky met pseudo-lesbian pop duo Tatu and their hit, "Not Gonna Get Us." Russian TV presenter Yana Churikova shouted: "Welcome to the center of the universe!"

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Russian state television shows Olympic rings in flames, which never happened

SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Smoke and mirrors? Russian state television aired footage Friday of five floating snowflakes turning into the Olympic rings and bursting into pyrotechnics at the Sochi Games opening ceremony. Problem is, that didn't happen.

The opening ceremony at the Winter Games hit a bump when only four of the five rings materialized in a wintry opening scene. The five were supposed to join together and erupt in fireworks. But one snowflake never expanded, and the pyrotechnics never went off.

But everything worked fine for viewers of the Rossiya 1, the Russian host broadcaster.

As the fifth ring got stuck, Rossiya cut away to rehearsal footage. All five rings came together, and the fireworks exploded on cue.

"It didn't show on television, thank God," Jean-Claude Killy, the French ski great who heads the IOC coordination commission for the Sochi Games, told The Associated Press.

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Woody Allen defends self against Dylan Farrow's molestation claim in open letter

LOS ANGELES (AP) — In a nearly 2,000-word open letter punctuated with rhetorical questions and decades-old anecdotes, notoriously media-shy Woody Allen again defended himself against renewed claims that he molested adoptive daughter Dylan Farrow 21 years ago.

Allen's response was published online Friday night by The New York Times, nearly a week after the same publication released an open letter from Dylan Farrow in which she claimed that in 1992 at the family's Connecticut home, Allen led her to a "dim, closet-like attic" and "then he sexually assaulted me." Dylan Farrow didn't specify Allen's actions, but described other abusive behavior.

"Of course, I did not molest Dylan," Allen wrote. "I loved her and hope one day she will grasp how she has been cheated out of having a loving father and exploited by a mother more interested in her own festering anger than her daughter's well-being."

Allen was investigated for the alleged molestation, but was never charged. A team of child abuse specialists from the Yale-New Haven Hospital, brought in to the case by prosecutors and police, concluded that Dylan Farrow had not been molested.

"Now it's 21 years later and Dylan has come forward with the accusations that the Yale experts investigated and found false," Allen said.

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Court documents: Woman faked pregnancy before stealing half-sister's baby from Wisconsin home

TOWN OF BELOIT, Wis. (AP) — An hour after a woman reported her newborn son missing from a Wisconsin home, police were questioning her step-sister — found with a prosthetic pregnancy belly, baby clothes and a stroller, but no baby, according to court documents.

It was more than 24 hours after Kayden Powell went missing before authorities discovered the infant, less than a week old, in a plastic storage crate outside an Iowa gas station, miraculously alive and well despite frigid temperatures.

Kristen Smith of Denver had pretended to be pregnant, went to Wisconsin and stole her step-sister's baby from his bassinet as his parents slept, court documents say. Then, as police closed in on her, she allegedly abandoned the infant, who was swaddled in blankets.

Federal prosecutors in Madison charged Smith with kidnapping Friday afternoon, hours after an Iowa police chief found Kayden.

"He's strong," the newborn's great-uncle, Mark Bennett, said of the boy. "I'm glad that baby is still living instead of in a ditch somewhere on a strange highway."

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UN: Number of children dying in Afghanistan rising, as Taliban bombs, battles hit civilians

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The number of children killed and wounded in Afghanistan's war jumped by 34 percent last year as the Taliban stepped up attacks across the country and continued to lay thousands of roadside bombs, the United Nations said Saturday.

Overall civilian casualties were up by 14 percent, reversing 2012's downward trend and making 2013 one of the deadliest years of the 12-year war for civilians, the U.N. Assistance Mission for Afghanistan said in a report.

The rising civilian toll underscores mounting levels of violence in Afghanistan. Taliban insurgents have ramped up attacks to try to gain ground and shake the Afghan government's confidence as international combat troops prepare to complete their withdrawal at the end of the year.

The U.N. report also noted an "alarming" new trend for 2013 — the increasing numbers of civilians being harmed in fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security forces.

It recorded a total of 962 battles in which civilians were harmed last year — an average rate of nearly 20 such battles every week — and said civilian casualties caused by such fighting rose by 43 percent over the previous year.

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Vulnerable Democrats want credit for passing Obama's health care law, then trying to fix it

WASHINGTON (AP) — Hit with a multimillion-dollar barrage of televised attacks, Democrats in tough re-election races want credit for trying to fix the problematic parts of the health care law at the same time they claim bragging rights for its popular provisions and allege Republicans will reverse the law's crackdown on insurance company abuses.

It's a tricky, high-stakes political straddle by lawmakers who voted to create the controversial law, which Republicans intend to place at the center of their campaign to win control of the Senate and hold their House majority.

In one of the year's most closely watched races, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., recently aired a commercial that shows her in numerous public settings last fall sternly telling President Barack Obama to keep his promise to let people keep their current health plans if they want to — and then taking credit after he took steps to make that happen.

"I'm fixing it and that's what my bill does, and I've urged the president to fix it," Landrieu says of the health care law in the ad. It ends with a screen that reads: "The result: People now allowed to keep health care plans." The three-term lawmaker aired the ad after a televised attack by Americans for Prosperity, a group funded by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch that has spent more than $25 million on similarly themed commercials in several races.

Hundreds of miles away, in Arizona, an outside group that backs Democrats stepped in after Americans for Prosperity targeted Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick. Referring to HealthCare.gov, which had a wretched debut last fall, a House Majority PAC ad said the Democratic lawmaker "blew the whistle on the disastrous health care website, calling it stunning ineptitude, and worked to fix it."

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Giving Republicans room on immigration issue, Obama resists pressure to act on his own

WASHINGTON (AP) — For a president looking for a legacy piece of legislation, the current state of the immigration debate represents a high-wire act.

President Barack Obama could act alone to slow deportations, and probably doom any chance of a permanent and comprehensive overhaul. Yet if he shows too much patience, the opportunity to fix immigration laws as he wants could well slip away.

As Republican leaders dampen expectations for overhauling immigration laws this year, the White House is hoping that the GOP resistance is temporary and tactical, and Obama is resisting pressure from some political allies to take matters into his own hands and ease his administration's deportation record.

House Speaker John Boehner this week all but ruled out passage of immigration legislation before the fall midterm elections, saying Republicans had trouble trusting that Obama would implement all aspects of an immigration law.

White House officials say they believe Boehner ultimately wants to get it done. But they acknowledge that Boehner faces stiff resistance from conservatives who oppose any form of legalization for immigrants who have crossed into the United States illegally or overstayed their visas. As well, Republicans are eager to keep this election year's focus on Obama's health care law.

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Second straight month of weak hiring renews economic concerns, offers some cause for optimism

WASHINGTON (AP) — A second straight month of weak job growth renewed concerns Friday that the vigor displayed by the American economy late last year may be gone, at least for the moment.

The Labor Department's monthly employment report showing a tepid gain of 113,000 jobs in January followed December's puny increase of 75,000 — far below last year's average monthly gain of 194,000.

Yet the report provided some cause for optimism. Solid hiring last month in manufacturing and construction point to underlying strength.

And in a healthy sign, more Americans began looking for jobs, suggesting they were more hopeful about their prospects. A sizable 115,000 formerly unemployed people also said they found jobs. Their hiring reduced the unemployment rate to a seasonally adjusted 6.6 percent, the lowest in more than five years.

Most economists say they think hiring will strengthen during 2014 as the economy improves further.

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Thousands of Muslims flee violence in Central African Republic; ICC opens war crimes probe

BANGUI, Central African Republic (AP) — Thousands of Muslims climbed aboard trucks protected by heavily armed Chadian soldiers in a mass exodus Friday from the capital of Central African Republic. Their flight follows months of escalating attacks on anyone perceived as supporting a now-defunct Muslim rebel government blamed for scores of atrocities during its rule of this predominantly Christian country.

In The Hague, Netherlands, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court announced a preliminary investigation into potential war crimes or crimes against humanity in Central African Republic, saying the crisis has "gone from bad to worse" since September.

Along the streets of Bangui, crowds of Christians gathered to cheer the convoy's departure for the neighboring country of Chad, which is mostly Muslim. It was an acrid farewell to their Muslim neighbors who had in some cases lived alongside Christians for generations here and have few ties to Chad.

The dangers for those who stayed behind were clear: One man who tumbled from the precariously overloaded trucks was brutally slain, witnesses said.

"He didn't even have the time to fall — he landed into the hands of the angry mob who then lynched him at the scene," said Armando Yanguendji, a resident of the Gobongo district who witnessed the horror.

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Fox's 'The X Factor' ending after 3 seasons; Simon Cowell to return to U.K. series

LOS ANGELES (AP) — "The X Factor" is ending after three seasons.

Fox and the show's production companies announced Friday that the U.S. edition of the singing competition won't be coming back this fall.

"X Factor" head judge and creator-executive producer Simon Cowell, who served as a judge on Fox's "American Idol" for nine seasons, will instead return to the U.K. version of "X Factor" later this year.

"I've had a fantastic time over the last 12 years, both on 'The X Factor' and 'American Idol,' " Cowell said in a statement. "And apart from being lucky enough to find some amazing talent on the shows, I have always had an incredible welcome from the American public — most of the time!"

The acerbic judge initially predicted that "X Factor" would be a major hit before its 2011 debut, but the show never garnered stellar ratings, which continued to dip in last year's third season. "X Factor" also failed to produce a winner as successful as past "Idol" champions.

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