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Associated Press

Posted on March 3, 2014 at 11:02 PM

Russia setting agenda in Ukraine crisis with combination of diplomacy and military threat

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian troops said to be 16,000 strong tightened their stranglehold on Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula Monday, openly defying the U.S. and the European Union and rattling world capitals and stock markets.

The West struggled to find a way to get Russia to back down, but with little beyond already threatened diplomatic and economic sanctions, global markets fell sharply over the prospect of violent upheaval in the heart of Europe.

For its part, Moscow reiterated its price for ending the crisis: restoration of a deal reached with the opposition less than two weeks ago to form a national unity government in Kiev that represents pro-Russian as well as Ukrainian interests, with new elections to be held by December.

Ukraine, meanwhile, accused Russia of piracy for blocking two of the besieged country's warships and ordering them to surrender or be seized.

The U.S. originally estimated that 6,000 Russian troops were dispatched to Crimea, but Ukraine's mission to the United Nations said Monday that 16,000 had been deployed. That stoked fears that the Kremlin might carry out more land grabs in pro-Russian eastern Ukraine.

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Standoff between Russian, Ukrainian soldiers causes tense impasse in small Crimean town

NOVO-OZERNE, Ukraine (AP) — For years, the little Crimean town was closed off from the rest of the world, a secretive community, at the edge of a key Soviet naval base, sealed by roadblocks and armed guards.

Today, to get to Novo-Ozerne, you just follow a pitted two-lane road far into the Crimean countryside, past collective farms abandoned decades ago and villages where it's hard to see any life, even at midday.

There's not much in town anymore, just the occasional ship that has sailed up the Black Sea inlet to this isolated spot, a handful of crumbling navy buildings, and an armory ringed by barbed wire.

But the Russians want it.

And the little forgotten town is now sharply divided, torn between those who welcomed the arrival here over the weekend of dozens of Russian soldiers wearing unmarked uniforms, and those who back the Ukrainians who are refusing to surrender their weapons.

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10 Things to Know for Tuesday

Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Tuesday:

1. RUSSIA SETS UKRAINE AGENDA, WEST GRASPS FOR SOLUTIONS

Fears are growing that Moscow might carry out more land grabs in pro-Russian eastern Ukraine, adding urgency to efforts by the U.S. and European Union to defuse the crisis.

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Obama unveiling election-year budget designed to appeal to Democrats

WASHINGTON (AP) — Striving for unity among Democrats rather than compromise with Republicans, President Barack Obama will unveil an election-year budget on Tuesday that drops earlier proposals to cut future Social Security benefits and seeks new money for infrastructure, education and job training.

But Obama's almost $4 trillion budget plan is likely to have a short shelf life. It comes just three months after Congress and the White House agreed to a two-year, bipartisan budget pact that has already set the parameters for this election year's budget work. Democrats controlling the Senate have already announced they won't advance a budget this year and will instead skip ahead to the annual appropriations bills for 2015, relying on new spending "caps" set by December's budget deal that provide $56 billion less than what Obama wants in 2015.

Obama would divide the extra money equally between the Pentagon and domestic initiatives like boosting manufacturing hubs, job training and preschool programs and cutting energy waste. Republicans are likely to balk at the idea, which would be paid for by curbing special interest tax breaks and making spending cuts elsewhere in the budget.

Obama has also announced a four-year, $302 billion plan to boost spending on highways, rail projects and mass transit. Half of the initiative would be financed through corporate taxes. Funding for highway and mass transit projects expires at the end of September, and there's bipartisan interest in finding a supplemental funding stream to augment stagnant revenues from the $18.4 cents-per-gallon gasoline tax.

Obama's budget arrives after a tumultuous year that began with Obama muscling through a 10-year $600 billion-plus tax increase on upper-bracket earners. Feeling stung, Republicans refused to yield on about $80 billion in automatic spending cuts that began in March. Then, conservatives in the GOP forced a 16-day partial government shutdown over funding to implement the nation's new health insurance program. The small-bore, two-year budget deal struck by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., emerged from the wreckage to alleviate the toughest automatic cuts.

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Obama says tough decisions must be made as deadline nears in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks

WASHINGTON (AP) — Seeking to salvage an elusive Middle East peace plan, President Barack Obama pressed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Monday to make the "tough decisions" needed to move forward on talks with the Palestinians.

But facing a U.S.-imposed April deadline, the Israeli leader declared pessimistically that, "Israel has been doing its part and, I regret to say, the Palestinians have not." Netanyahu's comments underscored the slim prospects of reaching an agreement to the long-running conflict, despite a robust effort led by Secretary of State John Kerry.

Obama and Netanyahu spoke before an Oval Office meeting on a snowy Monday in Washington. The meeting marked a more direct foray into the peace negotiations by Obama, who will also meet at the White House later this month with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

"It is still possible to create two states, a Jewish state of Israel and a state of Palestine, with people living side by side in peace and security," Obama said. "But it's difficult. It requires compromise on all sides."

While the relationship between Obama and Netanyahu has improved after early tensions, the two leaders still grapple with deep differences, particularly on Iran. Israel sees Iran's nuclear program as an existential threat and fears Tehran is using U.S.-led negotiations to stall while it builds a bomb.

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Another snow day: South, Mid-Atlantic hit hard as snow, frigid temperatures extend into March

WASHINGTON (AP) — On the latest snow day in a winter full of them, residents of parts of the South, Mid-Atlantic and Northeast were coping with several inches of snow on top of a layer of slush.

With accumulations of 4-to-6 inches in Washington, Monday's storm would have been the largest in the nation's capital in all of last year. But in the seemingly endless winter of 2013-2014, it came 2 ½ weeks after a much bigger storm, and the region settled into a familiar routine of hunkering down.

Schools and government offices were closed. Federal workers stayed home. Young adults gathered on the sloppy, slushy National Mall for a semi-organized, afternoon snowball fight.

By early afternoon, the snow had stopped. But the region will face yet another challenge: another blast of bitterly cold arctic air. Temperatures were expected to dip into the single digits along the Eastern Seaboard on Monday night. That doesn't usually happen after March 1, which is sometimes referred to as the start of "meteorological spring."

If the forecast holds, it would be only the third single-digit day after March 1 in the recorded history of the nation's capital — and the previous two were in 1872 and 1873, according to the National Weather Service.

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Most abusers of addictive prescription meds get them free from friends, relatives, study says

CHICAGO (AP) — Most people who abuse addictive prescription painkillers get them for free from friends or relatives, while drug dealers are a relatively uncommon source for those at highest risk for deadly overdoses, a government study found.

People who abuse the most frequently often doctor-shop; more than 1 in 4 who used these drugs almost daily said they had been prescribed by one or more physicians. Almost as many said they got them for free from friends or relatives; only 15 percent of the most frequent abusers said they bought the drugs from dealers or other strangers.

Those abusers "are probably using at much greater volumes and simply asking a friend for a pill now and then is not going to be sufficient," said Dr. Leonard Paulozzi, a researcher at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to the study, two-thirds of abusers said they used the drugs infrequently and well over half of these users said they got them free from friends or relatives.

Paulozzi and CDC colleagues analyzed four years of nationwide health surveys on nonmedical use of pain relievers including oxycodone and hydrocodone. These include the brand-name pills OxyContin and Vicodin, in a family of drugs called opioids — chemically similar to opium.

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Ellen's Oscar celeb selfie: Was it a shrewd product placement in hyper-marketed world?

NEW YORK (AP) — Ellen DeGeneres' celeb-studded selfie from the most-watched Oscars telecast in a decade was a landmark social media moment at a time online conversation is boosting television viewership and vice versa.

It's also a murky example of what is or isn't product placement in a hyper-marketed world. Would the world's most retweeted photo have been shot by an iPhone if Samsung hadn't been a commercial sponsor of the Academy Awards?

An estimated 43 million people watched "12 Years a Slave" win the Oscar for best picture on Sunday night. It was the most-watched Academy Awards since 2004, when "Lord of the Rings: Return of the King" was the best picture. And it was the most popular entertainment event on TV since the "Friends" finale that year. The Oscars are generally the most-watched TV event of the year after the Super Bowl.

Oscar night was also big for Jimmy Kimmel. The ABC late-night star drew just under 7 million viewers for his post-Oscars special, the biggest audience he's ever gotten on ABC, despite starting at 12:42 a.m. on the East Coast.

The ratings provide further evidence of how big event programming is a growth engine for broadcast networks, in large part because of fans watching the event and conversing with friends on tablets and smartphones. Twitter said that some 14.7 million tweets mentioning the Oscars or prominent actors and films were sent out during the Sunday night telecast, and Facebook said there were 25.4 million interactions about the show.

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Person with knowledge of plans says Jason Collins will get second 10-day contract from Nets

NEW YORK (AP) — Jason Collins spent part of his off day on Sunday shopping at Costco.

He was wise to stock up, since he'll be staying with Brooklyn for at least a little while longer.

The Nets plan to sign Collins to a second 10-day contract, a person with knowledge of the situation said Monday.

Collins signed his original deal on Feb. 23, becoming the NBA's first openly gay player, and it expires Tuesday.

The Nets then will re-sign him for another 10 days on Wednesday, the person told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the plans haven't been made public.

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History for LeBron! James scores career-high 61 points, Heat top Bobcats 124-107

MIAMI (AP) — Best player. Best game of his career.

LeBron James clearly isn't ready to concede his MVP award to anyone yet.

Dazzling from inside and out, James put on the best scoring show of his NBA life on Monday night, pouring in 61 points — a career high and a franchise record — as the Miami Heat beat the Charlotte Bobcats 124-107. It was the eighth straight win for the two-time defending champions, who are starting to roll as the playoffs get near.

James made 22 of 33 shots from the field, including his first eight 3-point attempts, on the way to his historic night.

"The man above has given me some unbelievable abilities to play the game of basketball," James said. "I just try to take advantage of it every night. I got the trust of my teammates and my coaching staff to go in there and let it go."

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