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

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Associated Press

Posted on March 2, 2014 at 6:02 AM

Updated Sunday, Mar 2 at 9:00 AM

Russian troop convoy on road to Crimea's capital as Putin rejects calls to pull back

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine (AP) — A convoy of hundreds of Russian troops headed toward the capital of Ukraine's Crimea region on Sunday, a day after Russia's forces took over the strategic Black Sea peninsula without firing a shot.

The new government in Kiev has been powerless to react. Ukraine's parliament was meeting Sunday in a closed session.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has defied calls from the West to pull back his troops, insisting that Russia has a right to protect its interests and the Russian-speaking population in Crimea and elsewhere in Ukraine.

There has been no sign of ethnic Russians facing attacks in Crimea, where they make up about 60 percent of the population, or elsewhere in Ukraine. Russia maintains an important naval base on Crimea.

President Barack Obama spoke with Putin by telephone for 90 minutes on Saturday and expressed his "deep concern" about "Russia's clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity," the White House said. Obama warned that Russia's "continued violation of international law will lead to greater political and economic isolation."

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AP PHOTOS: Days of turmoil in Ukraine

Ignoring President Barack Obama's warning that "there will be costs" if Moscow intervenes militarily in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin has sharply raised the stakes in the conflict over Ukraine's future, evoking memories of Cold War brinkmanship. The latest moves follow months of pro-democracy protests against the now-fugitive president, Viktor Yanukovych, and his decision to turn Ukraine toward Russia, its longtime patron, instead of the European Union.

Here are some images of the turmoil.

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Follow Associated Press photographers and photo editors on Twitter: http://apne.ws/15Oo6johttp://apne.ws/15Oo6jo

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China blames Uighur separatists for knife attack at train station that leaves 33 people dead

KUNMING, China (AP) — More than 10 assailants slashed scores of people with knives at a train station in southern China in what officials said Sunday was a terrorist assault by ethnic separatists from the far west. Twenty-nine slash victims and four attackers were killed and 143 people wounded.

Police fatally shot four of the assailants, captured one and were searching for the others following the attack late Saturday at the Kunming train station in Yunnan province, the official Xinhua News Agency said. State broadcaster CCTV said at least two of the attackers were women — one of the slain and the one who was captured and later brought to a hospital for treatment.

Witnesses described assailants dressed in black storming the train station and slashing people indiscriminately with large knives and machetes.

Student Qiao Yunao, 16, was waiting to catch a train at the station when people started crying out and running, and then saw a man cut another man's neck, drawing blood.

"I was freaking out, and ran to a fast food store, and many people were running in there to take refuge," she told The Associated Press via Sina Weibo, a Chinese microblog. "I saw two attackers, both men, one with a watermelon knife and the other with a fruit knife. They were running and chopping whoever they could."

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US condemns Russian military intervention in Ukraine; Russia says it's protecting Russians

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart, President Vladimir Putin, strongly disagree over what's at stake in the Ukraine crisis.

Those differing views were made clear in a 90-minute phone call and could make it difficult to find a resolution to the crisis in Ukraine.

In the Saturday call, Obama called Russia's actions "a clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty" and called for Russia to pull its forces back to bases in Ukraine's Crimean region and de-escalate tensions. President Putin responded that the turmoil in Ukraine posed real threats to the life and health of Russian citizens living in Ukraine and that Russia has the right to protect them.

Russian troops took over Crimea as the Russian parliament on Saturday granted Putin authority to use the military to protect Russian interests in Ukraine.

Ukraine's newly installed government was powerless to react to the swarm of Russian troops.

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Storm leaves muddy mess on California foothill homes; rain, snow moving eastward

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A thunderstorm that brought sorely-needed rain to drought-plagued California is winding down after sending mudslides down foothill communities, flooding roadways and opening up sinkholes.

Evacuation orders remained in effect for hundreds of homes in Los Angeles County foothill communities where recent wildfires have burned away vegetation that holds soil in place, and bursts of rain caused occasional debris flows.

The storm marked a sharp departure from many months of drought that has grown to crisis proportions for the state's vast farming industry. However, such storms would have to be much more frequent to make major headway against the drought, weather forecasters say.

The heavy band of rain drenched parts of the state throughout Saturday before tapering off by nighttime. While the danger of mudslides was subsiding, officials urged residents who left their homes as much as three days earlier to stay away until Sunday morning.

"The good news is that it looks like the storm will pass ... but we still need to evaluate the safety of the area" before people can return home, Assistant Chief Steve Martin of the Los Angeles County Fire Department told a webcast news conference.

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How an uneducated boy in rural Mexico became the world's most powerful drug lord

It was nighttime in May of 1990, in the heyday of the cocaine boom across America. Twenty Mexican federal police officers and a handful of U.S. Customs agents, acting on a tip, descended on a stucco home on the edge of Agua Prieta, Mexico — a stone's throw from Arizona. "Policia," they yelled, guns drawn, before busting down the front door.

The house was empty but looked lived in, with dishes in the kitchen and toys in the backyard. The officers moved quickly to a spacious game room, complete with a bar and a pool table, set atop a 10-by-10 foot concrete panel on the floor.

An informant had told them that what they were looking for was under the pool table. They moved it aside and went to work with a jackhammer. Then, a stroke of luck: One of them turned the knob of a faucet and suddenly the floor panel rose into the air — like a hydraulic lift in an auto shop, or something straight out of a Bond movie.

A metal staircase led down to a stunning discovery: Beneath the house, connecting to a warehouse in the U.S. 300 feet away, was an underground tunnel outfitted with lighting, air vents and tracks on the floor to transport carts full of drugs.

It was, at the time, unheard of, a new level of sophistication in the cross-border war on the Colombian and Mexican cartels that were sending tons of cocaine and marijuana north every year. "A masterpiece," retired Customs agent Terry Kirkpatrick, who was there that day, recalled of the tunnel that came to be known as "Cocaine Alley."

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UN says attacks kill 703 in Iraq in February as wave of militant assaults washes over country

BAGHDAD (AP) — The United Nations said Saturday that violence across Iraq in February killed 703 people, a death toll higher than the year before as the country faces a rising wave of militant attacks rivaling the sectarian bloodshed that followed the U.S.-led invasion.

The figures issued by the U.N.'s mission to Iraq is close to January's death toll of 733, showing that a surge of violence that began 10 months ago with a government crackdown on a Sunni protest camp is not receding. Meanwhile, attacks Saturday killed at least five people and wounded 14, authorities said.

Attacks in February killed 564 civilians and 139 security force members in February, the U.N. said. The violence wounded 1,381, the vast majority civilians, it said. That compares to February 2013, when attacks killed 418 civilians and wounded 704.

The capital, Baghdad, was the worst affected with 239 people killed, according to the U.N. Two predominantly Sunni provinces — central Salaheddin with 121 killed and northern Ninevah with 94 killed — followed.

U.N. mission chief Nickolay Mladenov appealed to Iraqis to stop the violence.

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Promise and peril as wireless companies, gadget makers connect everything

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — We're in the beginning of a world in which everything is connected to the Internet and with one another, while powerful yet relatively cheap computers analyze all that data for ways to improve lives.

Toothbrushes tell your mirror to remind you to floss. Basketball jerseys detect impending heart failure and call the ambulance for you.

At least that's the vision presented this past week at the Mobile World Congress wireless show in Barcelona, Spain. The four-day conference highlighted what the tech industry has loosely termed "the Internet of things."

Some of that wisdom is already available or promised by the end of the year.

Fitness devices from Sony and Samsung connect with your smartphones to provide digital records of your daily lives. French startup Cityzen Sciences has embedded fabric with heart-rate and other sensors to track your physical activities.

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'12 Years a Slave' rolls at 29th annual Spirit Awards, winning 5 awards

SANTA MONICA, Calif. (AP) — "12 Years a Slave" rolled at the Spirit Awards, winning five awards including best feature at the annual independent film celebration.

On the eve of the Academy Awards, the slavery tale won awards for director Steve McQueen, actress Lupita Nyong'o, screenwriter John Ridley and cinematographer Sean Bobbitt. In a more laid-back, beachside ceremony in Santa Monica, just west of Los Angeles, "12 Years a Slave" was applauded as the clear favorite of the indie circuit.

The Spirit Awards could end up being — more than ever before — a dress rehearsal to Sunday's Academy Awards. "12 Years a Slave" is considered, albeit extremely narrowly, the favorite for best picture over the space spectacle "Gravity" and the 1970s con-artist "American Hustle." (Neither film was eligible at the Spirits, which honor films made for $20 million or less.)

The acting winners, too, may line up. All of the Oscar favorites won Saturday at the Spirits, including best actor for Matthew McConaughey in "Dallas Buyers Club" and Cate Blanchett in "Blue Jasmine." McConaughey's co-star, Jared Leto, won best male supporting performance.

Leto gave what might be the acceptance speech to end all acceptance speeches, rattling off an absurd list of thank yous to not just those with "Dallas Buyers Club," but Hermann Hesse, Wayne Gretzky, home-made burritos, "the seven billion people on the planet" and many more. The actor-rocker added, with emphasis, "all the women I've been with and all the women who think they've been with me."

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Iditarod mushers prepare for start of nearly 1,000-mile sled dog race across Alaska

WILLOW, Alaska (AP) — A New Zealand man will be the first musher en route to the town of Nome when the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race begins Sunday.

Curt Perano and 68 other mushers will begin the world's most famous sled dog race by crossing frozen Willow Lake about 50 miles north of Anchorage.

It's a staggered start, meaning one musher leaves every two minutes. The order was drawn at a musher's banquet Thursday night in Anchorage, and Perano got the leading spot.

The finish line is on Front Street in Nome, which runs parallel to the Bering Sea coast. Standing between the mushers and the finish line are about 1,000 miles of unforgiving Alaska terrain, including two mountain ranges, untamed wilderness, the mighty Yukon River and the wind-whipped Bering Sea coast.

Among those in the field are Mitch Seavey, last year's champion, and his son, Dallas Seavey, the 2012 winner.

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