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Ukraine Announces Crimea Withdrawal as Russian Occupation Expands

The Ukrainian government is withdrawing its soldiers from Crimea as Russian forces continue to seize military bases. The announcement from Ukraine marks an acknowledgment it’s ceded control of Crimea in the aftermath of this week’s referendum vote and subsequent Russian annexation. At least one Ukrainian soldier has been killed as Russian forces take over Ukrainian bases around Crimea. Earlier today Russian troops reportedly released the commander of the Ukrainian Navy, who had been seized in his own headquarters. At a United Nations hearing today in Geneva, a Ukrainian diplomat warned Russia is preparing "a full blown military intervention in Ukraine’s east and south," a claim Russia denies. On Wednesday, President Obama ruled out U.S. military intervention while condemning Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

President Obama: "We are not going to be getting into a military excursion in Ukraine. What we are going to do is mobilize all of our diplomatic resources to make sure that we’ve got a strong international coalition that sends a clear message, which is: The Ukraine should decide their own destiny."

The Crimea standoff has sparked the worst East-West crisis since the end of the Cold War. Speaking during a visit to Europe, Vice President Joe Biden said the U.S. is considering sending ground troops to its Baltic allies for military exercises. On Wednesday, a U.S. Navy warship conducted a one-day military exercise in the Black Sea with the Bulgarian and Romanian navies. Meanwhile in Moscow, the Russian government said it is considering changing its stance on Iran’s nuclear talks in response to newly imposed U.S. sanctions.

Israel Bombs Syrian Military in Golan Heights; Syria Shuts Lebanon Crossing

Israel has carried out a series of airstrikes on the Syrian military in the Golan Heights, reportedly killing one soldier and wounding seven others. Israel called the attack retaliation for a bombing that wounded four of its soldiers in the area a day before. It was the first time Israel has acknowledged bombing Syria since the outbreak of the civil war there three years ago this month. Syria, meanwhile, has closed its border crossing with Lebanon after heavy clashes with rebel fighters driven from Homs province.

Election Authorities Ordered to Help Enforce Voter ID Laws

A federal judge has ordered national election officials to assist Kansas and Arizona in imposing voter-ID laws instead of rejecting their requests. The Election Assistance Commission had refused to add state-specific language sought by the states that would require proof of citizenship in order to vote. But on Wednesday, District Court Judge Eric Melgren ordered the EAC to grant Kansas and Arizona’s requests. The ruling could pave the way for a two-tiered voter registration system in which states add citizenship requirements for local races. The ruling wouldn’t apply to federal registration forms, which fall under congressional jurisdiction.

NSA: Tech Firms Knew of Bulk Spying

The NSA’s top attorney has contradicted longstanding claims by the nation’s leading technology companies that they were unaware of bulk government spying on their servers. Speaking before the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, NSA General Counsel Rajesh De said the companies have offered full cooperation to bulk Internet spying programs. De said the firms — including Apple, Google and Facebook — may only have been unaware of details like the operation’s codename, PRISM. The companies have denied knowingly aiding government spying since leaks from Edward Snowden disclosed PRISM last year.

Bin Laden Son-in-Law Testifies at Terrorism Trial

The son-in-law of Osama bin Laden has unexpectedly testified at his terrorism trial. Sulaiman Abu Ghaith took the stand on Wednesday to deny having prior knowledge of 9/11 and other plots against the United States. During his testimony, Abu Ghaith described meeting with bin Laden inside a cave in Afghanistan just hours after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. He is the most senior alleged al-Qaeda member to be tried in a U.S. civilian court in the years since 9/11.

Toyota Fined $1.2B for Safety Violations in Cars

The auto giant Toyota has been fined a record $1.2 billion to resolve a criminal probe of safety defects in its cars. The penalty includes an admission that Toyota misled customers about problems that forced the cars’ acceleration even as drivers tried to slow down. Attorney General Eric Holder called the fine the largest of its kind.

Attorney General Eric Holder: "The $1.2 billion payment represents the largest criminal penalty imposed on a car company in the history of the United States. This is appropriate, given the extent of the deception carried out by Toyota in this case. Put simply, Toyota’s conduct was shameful. It showed a blatant disregard for systems and laws designed to look after the safety of consumers. By the company’s own admission, it protected its brand ahead of its own customers. This constitutes a clear and reprehensible abuse of the public trust."

Holder says the case could serve as a model for resolving other car safety cases, including the General Motors recall of millions of vehicles over faulty ignition switches.

Homeless Veteran Dies in Overheated Rikers Cell

A mentally ill homeless veteran has died in a New York City prison cell that was apparently kept at a scorching temperature. Jerome Murdough, a former marine, had been arrested for trespassing after sleeping in a stairwell. Prison officials say they’re investigating whether Murdough died because of an overheated cell.

New York City’s Homeless Population Hits Record High

The number of homeless people in New York City meanwhile has reached a record high. The Coalition for the Homeless reports more than 53,600 people slept in shelters each night in January, the highest amount ever recorded. There has also been a rise in people who are homeless and working. The report found one in four homeless families is headed by an adult who has a job.

Report: Nuclear Base Test Scores Boosted by Support Staff

A new report reveals more information about deficiencies among staff at a U.S. nuclear missile base in North Dakota. Last March, airmen at Minot Air Force Base received a "marginal" rating on an inspection – the equivalent of a "D." But the Associated Press reveals that the rating was boosted by the performance of cooks and other support staff. On their own, the launch officers, who hold the keys to nuclear missiles, would have failed. There were also indications of cheating on exams. At least 92 officers at another base in Montana have been removed from launch duty in a prior cheating scandal.

Fed Scales Back Bond Purchases; Winter Weather Hampered Economy

The Federal Reserve is again scaling back its monthly economic stimulus program. Under a policy called "quantitative easing," the Fed has spent $85 billion a month buying up Treasury and mortgage bonds in a bid to trigger economic growth. On Wednesday, new Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said the program will be reduced by an additional $10 billion a month. Yellen also said the winter season’s extreme weather conditions have weakened the nation’s economic recovery.

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen: "Unusually harsh weather in January and February has made assessing the underlying strength of the economy especially challenging. Broadly speaking, however, the spending and production data, while somewhat weaker than we had expected in January, are roughly in line with our expectations as of December, the last time committee participants submitted economic projections."

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