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Crimea parliament sets vote to break away from Ukraine; West imposes first real sanctions
SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine lurched toward breakup Thursday as lawmakers in Crimea unanimously declared they wanted to join Russia and would put the decision to voters in 10 days. President Barack Obama condemned the move and the West answered with the first real sanctions against Russia.
Speaking from the White House, Obama said any decisions on the future of Crimea, a pro-Russian area of Ukraine, must include the country's new government.
"The proposed referendum on the future of Crimea would violate the constitution and violate international law," Obama said. "We are well beyond the days when borders can be redrawn over the heads of democratic leaders."
Russian President Vladimir Putin was almost certainly behind Thursday's dramatic developments, but it was not clear whether he is aiming for outright annexation, or simply strengthening his hand in talks with the West.
The U.S. moved to impose financial sanctions and travel restrictions on opponents of Ukraine's new government and the EU also announced limited punitive measures against Putin's government, including the suspension of trade and visa talks. Both Washington and the EU said they were discussing further sanctions.
Obama orders Russia sanctions, declares US won't let Russia carve up Ukraine; EU more cautious
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama ordered the West's first sanctions in response to Russia's military takeover of Crimea on Thursday, declaring his determination not to let the Kremlin carve up Ukraine. He asserted that a hastily scheduled referendum on Crimea seceding and becoming part of Russia would violate international law.
European leaders announced their own measures but split over how forcefully to follow America's lead. Obama threatened further steps if Russia persists.
All signs pointed to a continuing diplomatic battle over Ukraine's territorial integrity and what could prove a broader fault line in Europe's post-Cold War order.
While East and West no longer threaten nuclear war and have vastly expanded commercial ties, Russia is determined to dominate the future of the former Soviet republics along its borders. Washington, its NATO partners and others across the continent are striving to pull these nations out of Moscow's orbit.
Underscoring his resolve to Putin, Obama issued an executive action slapping new visa restrictions on Russian and other opponents of Ukraine's government in Kiev and authorizing wider financial penalties against those involved in the military intervention or in stealing state assets. None of the measures appeared aimed at the Russian president personally.
Military sexual assaults: Impassioned Senate debate but no change in the handling of cases
WASHINGTON (AP) — Bowing to the Pentagon, the Senate agreed after impassioned debate Thursday to leave the authority to prosecute rapes and other serious crimes with military commanders in a struggle that highlighted the growing role of women in Congress.
The vote was 55-45 in favor of stripping commanders of that authority, but that was short of the 60 necessary to move ahead on the legislation sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. It would have given the decision to take serious crimes to courts-martial to seasoned military trial lawyers, independent of the chain of command.
The debate and vote was the culmination of a nearly yearlong campaign to curb sexual assault in the ranks, led by female senators who have questioned whether the military's mostly male leadership understands differences between relatively minor sexual offenses and serious crimes that deserve swift and decisive justice.
Pentagon leaders vigorously opposed the measure, as did former prosecutors and military veterans in the Senate who argued that commanders should have more responsibility, not less, for the conduct of the men and women they lead in war and peacetime.
"We can't let the commanders walk away," insisted Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, who bemoaned the tenor of a policy debate that pitted her against fellow Democrat Gillibrand.
Army general accused of sex assault faces up to 15 years for guilty plea to 3 lesser charges
FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) — In his immaculate blue dress uniform, Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair stood ramrod straight before a judge Thursday and pleaded guilty to three charges that could send him to prison for up to 15 years.
It was a remarkable admission sure to end the military career of a man once regarded as a rising star among the U.S. Army's small cadre of trusted battle commanders.
Sinclair, 51, still faces five other charges stemming from the claims of a female captain nearly 20 years his junior who says the general twice forced her to perform oral sex. But by pleading guilty to the lesser charges, Sinclair's lawyers believe they will strengthen his case at trial by potentially limiting some of the salacious evidence prosecutors can present.
The former deputy commander of the 82nd Airborne could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted of the sexual assaults. Opening statements were expected Friday.
Asked by judge Col. James Pohl whether he clearly understood the consequences of his admissions, the decorated veteran of five combat deployments answered in a clear voice, with no emotion: "Yes sir."
2016 GOP nomination fight: Possible presidential hopefuls vie for clout with conservatives
OXON HILL, Md. (AP) — Republicans vying for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016 auditioned Thursday before some of the nation's most ardent conservative leaders, calling for the party to unite behind a clear agenda and draw contrasts with Democrats.
The contestants ranged from Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a tea party champion, to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a favorite of the GOP establishment.
"If you want to lose elections, stand for nothing," said Cruz, who referred as examples to the unsuccessful presidential bids of Bob Dole, John McCain and Mitt Romney. "When you don't stand and draw a clear distinction, when you don't stand for principle, Democrats celebrate."
The annual Conservative Political Action Conference offered an early tryout of sorts for a half-dozen Republican officials eager to win over the GOP's most passionate voters. At stake this year is the Senate majority, currently held by senators in President Barack Obama's party. But for all, the midterm elections could serve as a springboard for the next presidential contest.
Republicans have much to mend before 2016, starting with a stark ideological divide between the party's establishment and the super-conservatives who rose to power in the tea party-fueled 2010 elections that delivered a Republican House majority. Fiscal crises, compromises and a war of words have separated the factions from the top down despite widespread agreement that Obama's signature health care law should be overturned.
Judge: Texas man can be tried as adult for childhood attack on boy who died 13 years later
CONROE, Texas (AP) — In the years that followed the 1998 attack that horribly burned her then-8-year-old son, Colleen Middleton felt fear and frustration over the possibility that the person she believed was responsible would never be taken to trial.
That fear and frustration was replaced by relief Thursday as a judge ruled that a Texas man accused of dousing the boy with gasoline and setting him on fire when he was a teenager can be tried as an adult for murder after the victim died from his burns 13 years later.
Don Willburn Collins was 13 when authorities allege he attacked Robert Middleton on his eighth birthday near the younger boy's home in Splendora, about 35 miles northeast of Houston. Middleton was burned across 99 percent of his body and endured years of physical therapy before he died in 2011 from skin cancer blamed on his burns.
Colleen Middleton said she is happy her son will finally get his day in court.
"''When Robert died we were thinking maybe nothing will ever happen, maybe someone is just going to get away with what they did to him," she said. "It's been a long road."
APNewsBreak: Many NY inmates report 'head shots,' tactic is supposed to be guards' last resort
NEW YORK (AP) — Nearly a third of Rikers Island inmates who said their visible injuries came at the hands of a correction officer last year had suffered a blow to the head, a tactic that is supposed to be a guard's last resort because it is potentially fatal, according to an internal report obtained by The Associated Press.
The report, acquired by the AP via a Freedom of Information request, also found that an average of three inmates a day were treated for visible injuries they claimed were caused by correction officers and 20 others each day suffered injuries primarily from violent encounters with other inmates.
Inmate advocates said the report shows that not enough is being done to stop violence at the notorious 12,000-inmate jail, by far the largest of New York City's lockups.
"The New York City jails are extremely violent," said Legal Aid Society attorney Mary Lynne Werlwas, who is representing Rikers inmates in a class-action lawsuit that alleges a pattern of excessive force by officers. "We should not be seeing these numbers of head shots. We should not be seeing this degree of facial injury. ... It's a problem the department has known about for some time."
The report, prepared by New York City health department officials, found 8,557 verified injuries among Rikers' inmates between April 2012 and April 2013. Of those, 1,257 injuries allegedly resulted from use-of-force by corrections officers. The rest were attributed primarily to inmate-on-inmate violence. It classified 304 of the injuries as serious, meaning they were fractures or other injuries that required more than first-aid treatment.
He walked on water, but did he look like Brad Pitt? Casting Jesus is a key marketing decision
NEW YORK (AP) — They say you can never be too rich or too thin. Surely it goes without saying that you can't be too good-looking, either, right? Especially in Hollywood.
But in the popular new film "Son of God," Jesus is so, well, easy on the eyes that some are revisiting an age-old question that has vexed scholars for centuries:
Did Jesus really look like Brad Pitt, only slightly better?
OK, that exact question hasn't vexed scholars for centuries. But those who study religion as portrayed in popular culture do note that depicting Jesus on the screen has always been a tricky business, one that balances weighty theological concerns — how divine to make the son of God, and how human? —with more earthly ones, like how best to sell movie tickets?
"Listen, films are big business," says Steven Kraftchick, professor at Emory University's Candler School of Theology. "They're probably not going to cast Jonah Hill as Jesus."
5 things to know about Google's mystery barge; some aren't a secret
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A Google barge built with recycled shipping containers proved its seaworthiness Thursday as it cruised from the San Francisco Bay to Stockton. But many other details about the odd-looking vessel remain a mystery. Here are five things that we do know so far:
GOOGLE IS AN UNCONVENTIONAL COMPANY THAT CAN AFFORD TO BE FANCIFUL
CEO and co-founder Larry Page once built an inkjet printer out of Legos, so it wasn't a shock last fall when it was revealed the 50-foot-tall barge at a San Francisco Bay island belonged to Google. Documents filed by Turner Construction Co. said the Treasure Island project would be part of a three-vessel fleet that would cost Google Inc. about $35 million. The other barges are supposed to be moored in Los Angeles and New York. So far, only one other similar vessel has been spotted in Portland, Maine.
Iditarod: 5 things to know about punishing trail conditions testing even most rugged mushers
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Punishing conditions along the early part of Alaska's nearly 1,000-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race have brought many mushers literally to their knees, knocking some out of the running altogether.
As of Thursday morning, 12 mushers had dropped out — at least one with a broken bone — and one was withdrawn, leaving 56 teams on the trail. Long stretches of bare ground made conditions treacherous hundreds of miles from the finish line in Nome on Alaska's western coast.
The trail gets better, then worse, with rumors among mushers of more icy patches with little snow on the final leg along the wind-whipped Bering Sea coast. The icy conditions are making for a blazing fast trail — less snow means faster running but less traction. Four-time champion Jeff King was the first to reach the checkpoint at Ruby on Thursday, clocking in more than 24 hours earlier than he did in 2006, when he last won the race.
Here are some key things to know about the rough ride:
WHERE'S THE SNOW?
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