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

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Associated Press

Posted on March 24, 2014 at 6:02 AM

Russia dominates trip agenda, but Obama seeks to broaden foreign outreach

AMSTERDAM (AP) — President Barack Obama begins a week of international travel with Russia's Crimean incursion at the top of his agenda, even as he simultaneously seeks to re-emphasize U.S. influence abroad.

As he arrived in the Netherlands Monday on a sunny and brisk morning, no issue commanded more of Obama's and Europe's attention than Russia's annexation of the Crimean peninsula and the fear that Moscow could decide to expand further into Ukraine.

But Obama also is attempting to use his weeklong trip to personally reconnect not only with Europe but Asia and the Middle East, all strategically crucial regions with their own tensions and qualms about the U.S.

That outreach will be underscored by Obama's meeting Monday with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of a nuclear security summit. On Tuesday, Obama has planned a joint meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye, a session preceded by a sitdown with Prince Mohamed bin Zayed, crown prince of Abu Dhabi, the richest emirate in the United Arab Emirates federation.

The two-day nuclear summit was the long-scheduled draw for Obama's visit to The Netherlands, but the headline event Monday is a Ukraine-focused, hurriedly scheduled meeting of the Group of Seven industrialized economies — the U.S., Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan.

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Chinese plane spots objects in Indian Ocean as US moves black box locator in search of jet

PERTH, Australia (AP) — A Chinese plane on Monday spotted two large objects in an area identified by multiple satellite images as containing possible debris from the missing Malaysian airliner, boosting hopes the frustrating search in the southern Indian Ocean could turn up another clue to the jet's fate.

The crew aboard one of two Chinese IL-76 aircraft combing the search zone observed two large objects and several smaller ones spread across several square kilometers (miles), Xinhua News Agency reported. At least one of the items — a white, square-shaped object — was captured on a camera aboard the plane, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said.

"We are still racing against time," Hong said at a ministry briefing. "As long as there is a glimmer of hope, our search efforts will carry on."

China has redirected the icebreaker Snow Dragon toward the latest find, and that ship was due to arrive early Tuesday. Six other Chinese ships have been directed toward the search zone along with 20 fishing vessels that have been asked to help, Lei said.

Relatives of passengers aboard the missing plane were avidly following news reports of the latest sightings, desperate for any word on the fate of loved ones. About two-thirds of the 239 people on board Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 are Chinese.

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Death toll from large landslide in Washington state increases to 8; more missing

ARLINGTON, Wash. (AP) — Hopes of finding any more survivors from a massive mudslide that killed at least eight people waned as searchers pulled more bodies from the tangled debris field and crews worked through the night into Monday in rural Washington state.

Search and rescue teams took to the air in helicopters and the ground on foot on Sunday looking for anyone who might still be alive. Their spirits had been raised late Saturday night when they heard voices calling for help from the flotsam of trees, dirt and wreckage. Dangerous conditions forced them to turn back in the darkness, but they resumed their work at first light Sunday.

"We didn't see or hear any signs of life out there today," Snohomish County Fire District 21 Chief Travis Hots said. "It's very disappointing to all emergency responders on scene."

Snohomish County sheriff's Lt. Rob Palmer said four more bodies were discovered late Sunday. Earlier in the day, authorities said one body had been found on the debris field. Three people were already confirmed dead on Saturday.

More people remained missing, and authorities said the number was "fluid." Earlier Sunday, they said it was at least 18, but that count came before additional bodies were discovered.

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Kiev government orders troop pullout from Crimea, annexed by Russia

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine's acting president says the country's troops stationed in Crimea will be pulled from the region after it was annexed by Russia.

Oleksandr Turchnynov said Monday that the Defense Ministry has been instructed to redeploy Ukrainian servicemen from the Black Sea peninsula to Ukraine's mainland, in remarks confirmed by his office.

Russian troops stormed and seized one of the remaining Ukrainian military bases in the region, capturing two servicemen.

The new pro-Western government in Kiev has been criticized for its indecision with regard to Ukrainian troops in Crimea, who have been besieged by Russian forces for weeks.

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AP IMPACT: No tsunami of flood insurance rate increases, but the waters will rise nonetheless

JERSEY SHORE, Pa. (AP) — This small, central Pennsylvania river town doesn't have beach homes or boardwalks, but it shares more than a name with the famous stretch of New Jersey coastline 250 miles to the east.

Both are among the thousands of places around the U.S. where people could face trouble in the years ahead because of the rising cost of government-mandated flood insurance.

Earlier this month, Congress sought to ease their fears of sky-high premiums by rolling back a 2012 reform ending the government's costly practice of offering subsidized insurance for older homes and businesses in flood zones. The president signed the bill Friday.

But while the law was widely hailed as a victory for people who had seen their bills triple, quadruple or even increase 15-fold overnight, pocketbook pain for many has merely been delayed.

As many as 1.1 million policyholders with subsidized government insurance will still be hit with steady rate increases. While no one is sure yet how high rates will go, there is cause for worry in cities and towns that rely on affordable policies to keep businesses afloat and prop up the local housing market.

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Egypt sentences 529 supporters of ex-president Morsi to death over violence, murder

CAIRO (AP) — A court in Egypt convicted 529 supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi and sentenced them to death on charges of murdering a policeman and attacking police in one of the largest mass trials in the country in decades.

The majority of the defendants were tried in absentia while more than 150 stood trial in unprecedentedly rushed hearings that lasted only two days. Sixteen suspects were acquitted.

The verdicts — and the extremely harsh sentences — are likely to be overturned on appeal, rights lawyers said after the trial ended in the city of Minya, south of Cairo.

"This is way over the top and unacceptable," said attorney Mohammed Zarie, who heads a rights center in Cairo. "It turns the judiciary in Egypt from a tool for achieving justice to an instrument for taking revenge."

"This verdict could be a precedent both in the history of Egyptian courts and perhaps, tribunals elsewhere in the world," he added.

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Release of report on terror interrogation could fuel Congress' fight with CIA, draw in Obama

WASHINGTON (AP) — If senators vote this week to release key sections of a voluminous report on terrorist interrogations, an already strained relationship between lawmakers and the CIA could become even more rancorous, and President Barack Obama might have to step into the fray.

The Senate Intelligence Committee hopes that by publishing a 400-page summary of its contentious review and the 20 main recommendations, it will shed light on some of the most unsavory elements of the Bush administration's "war on terror" after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Despite now serving Obama, the CIA maintains that the report underestimates the intelligence value of waterboarding and other methods employed by intelligence officials at undeclared, "black site" facilities overseas. The entire investigation runs some 6,200 pages.

The dispute boiled into the open earlier this month with competing claims of wrongdoing by Senate staffers and CIA officials. The intelligence committee's chairwoman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, accused the CIA of improperly monitoring the computer use of Senate staffers and deleting files, undermining the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches. The agency said the intelligence panel illegally accessed certain documents. Each side has registered criminal complaints with the Justice Department.

This week's vote could fuel the fight, if it goes in favor of disclosure. It would start a process that forces CIA officials and Senate staffers to go line-by-line through the report and debate which elements can be made public and which must stay secret because of ongoing national security concerns. The CIA and the executive branch hold all the keys as the final determiners of what ought to remain classified. Senators primarily have the bully pulpit of embarrassing the CIA publicly and the last-resort measure of going after the agency's budget.

But senators are hoping the dispute can be diffused with the intervention of Obama, whose record includes outlawing waterboarding, unsuccessfully seeking the closure of the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and supporting other changes in how the United States pursues, detains, questions and prosecutes terrorist suspects. The president has refused thus far to weigh in on Congress' dispute with the CIA, while pledging to declassify at least the findings of the Senate report "so that the American people can understand what happened in the past, and that can help guide us as we move forward."

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No timetable when busy Texas shipping channel to reopen after 'significant' oil spill

TEXAS CITY, Texas (AP) — No timetable has been set to reopen a major U.S. shipping channel after nearly 170,000 gallons of tar-like oil spilled into the Texas waterway, but more help was being called in Monday to contain the spill and protect important shorebird habitat.

A barge carrying about 900,000 gallons of the heavy oil collided with a ship Saturday in the busy Houston Ship Channel, spilling as much as a fifth of its cargo into one of the world's busiest waterways for moving petrochemicals, according to the Coast Guard.

Oil had been detected 12 miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico by Sunday, and as many as 60 vessels were either waiting to get in or out. The Coast Guard — which called it a "significant spill" — said it expected to deploy more containment booms Monday, with 24 vessels working to skim the oil.

Environmental groups said the spill occurred at an especially sensitive time. The channel in Texas City, about 45 miles southeast of Houston, has important shorebird habitat on both sides, and tens of thousands of wintering birds are still in the area.

"The timing really couldn't be much worse since we're approaching the peak shorebird migration season," said Richard Gibbons, conservation director of the Houston Audubon Society.

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California chefs, bartenders fight new law, common in most states, that bans bare-hand contact

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — As the happy hour crowd poured in on a recent weeknight, the kitchen and bar staff at Hock Farm restaurant scrambled to meet the incoming orders.

One used her hands to toss locally grown Romaine hearts with anchovy dressing in a metal bowl, while another, facing diners from behind a marble countertop, used his fingers to sprinkle cojita cheese and red onion into chicken tacos.

A gloveless bartender wedged an orange slice on the edge of a white wine spritzer.

All of them were breaking a state law that took effect in January, but won't be enforced until July.

California is a straggler in banning bare-hand contact with ready-to-eat food. A state-by-state review of food codes shows 41 other states have a version of the legislation signed last year by Gov. Jerry Brown.

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Three No. 1s, 3 double-digit seeds the big stories of NCAA's Sweet 16

The Billion Dollar Dream has been over for a while. Most bracket sheets are loaded with red X's. Still, there is plenty of March Madness ahead of us in the NCAA tournament's round of 16.

You want favorites? Three No. 1s — Florida, Arizona, Virginia — are alive and well after two rounds.

You want underdogs? How about three with double-digit seedings — Stanford, a 10, with 11s Dayton and Tennessee.

You want a rivalry? It's tough to beat Kentucky-Louisville.

You want rematches? Besides Kentucky-Louisville there is Arizona-San Diego State.

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