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Obama threatens Karzai with full U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan
Written by JULIE PACE, AP White House Correspondent   
Wednesday, 26 February 2014 06:58

WASHINGTON (AP) — Frustrated with his Afghan counterpart, President Barack Obama is ordering the Pentagon to accelerate planning for a full U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of this year. But Obama is also holding out hope that Afghanistan's next president may eventually sign a stalled security agreement that could prevent the U.S. from having to take that step.

Obama spoke Tuesday with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the first direct conversation between the two leaders since last June. The White House has become increasingly frustrated with Karzai, who has refused to sign a security pact that the White House says is crucial to keeping a U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan after the war formally concludes at the end of this year.

With no sign that Karzai will sign the agreement, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama "has tasked the Pentagon with preparing for the contingency that there will be no troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014." However, he added that the U.S. remains open to keeping troops in Afghanistan if an agreement can be signed later this year, likely after the April Afghan elections.

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Ukraine disbands police unit accused of violence
Written by MARIA DANILOVA, Associated Press   
Wednesday, 26 February 2014 06:57

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine's acting interior minister on Wednesday ordered the disbandment of a feared riot police force that many accuse of attacks on protesters during the country's three-month political turmoil.

Arsen Avakov wrote on his Facebook page that he has signed a decree to disband the force known as Berkut and said more detail would be announced later.

Anti-government protesters have blamed Berkut for violent attacks against peaceful demonstrators protesting authorities' decision to ditch closer ties with the European Union and turn to Moscow instead. Those attacks galvanized long-brewing anger against police and the protests quickly grew into a massive movement, attracting crowds exceeding 100,000 and establishing an extensive tent camp in the capital's main downtown square.

The force, whose name means "golden eagle," consisted of about 5,000 officers. It was unclear Wednesday if its members would be dismissed or if they would be reassigned to other units.

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New index confirms it: This winter is miserable
Written by JEFF KAROUB, Associated Press SETH BORENSTEIN, Associated Press   
Tuesday, 25 February 2014 15:59

DETROIT (AP) — A new winter misery index confirms what many Americans in the Midwest and East know in their all-too-chilled bones: This has been one of the harshest winters of our lifetimes.

And nowhere has been hit harder, relatively, than Detroit.

Sure Chicago, Indianapolis and Philadelphia and Moline, Ill., are in the midst of their third most extreme winters in more than 60 years. But Detroit, a city that is trying to crawl out of bankruptcy, is also slogging through what so far is the most extreme winter it has had since Harry Truman was president, at least, according to a winter extremity index created by a National Weather Service meteorologist Barbara Mayes Boustead.

The index is based on cold temperatures and snowfall. And so far Detroit has had more than 6 1/2 feet of snow and 100 days when the thermometer plunged below the freezing mark. Of two dozen cities studied, Detroit alone is in the middle of its harshest winter since 1950.

In better weather, downtown Detroit's riverfront walk bustles with bicyclists, runners, walkers and people watchers. Lunchtime on Tuesday wasn't better weather. With temperatures in the low 20s and a biting wind, Paul Welch was practically alone on his 2-mile trek. He was mostly dressed for the weather, with a fleece pullover, ski jacket and gloves — but no hat. Consequently, his face was pink.

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Avalanche deaths spike as storms bring snow, risks
Written by PHUONG LE, Associated Press   
Wednesday, 26 February 2014 06:52

SEATTLE (AP) — Skiers and snowboarders rejoiced when a series of storms dumped several feet of snow in the mountains across the West, after what had been a disappointing start for those seeking fresh powder in the backcountry.

But all the new snow and strong winds in the past month have fueled dangerous conditions from the Cascades to the Rockies, prompting forecasters to issue warnings of considerable or high avalanche danger for many places outside of established ski areas.

Seventeen people have died in an avalanche this winter, 11 of them since early February. Many more skirted disaster and survived with broken bones or other injuries. Some were partially buried in snow, but managed to dig themselves out or were dug out by companions.

Avalanche experts are seeing a similar problem across the region: too much snow and strong winds overloading weak layers of old snow. With too much stress and not enough time to bond or stabilize, that weak snow layer eventually gives way.

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Holder: Discriminatory laws don't need defending
Written by ERIC TUCKER, Associated Press   
Tuesday, 25 February 2014 15:56

WASHINGTON (AP) — State attorneys general are not obligated to defend laws in their states banning same-sex marriage if the laws discriminate in a way forbidden by the Constitution, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told his state counterparts Tuesday.

Holder cited his own experience in refusing to defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act, as well as similar stances taken more recently by state attorneys general, in saying that laws raising questions of equal protection deserve a higher level of scrutiny. Any refusal to defend a state law must not be made lightly, he said, but it's imperative to uphold the values "that all are created equal and entitled to equal opportunity."

"Any decisions — at any level — not to defend individual laws must be exceedingly rare," Holder told state attorneys general at a meeting of their national association. "And they must never stem merely from policy or political disagreements — hinging instead on firm constitutional grounds."

His own view, he said, is that "we must be suspicious of legal classifications based solely on sexual orientation."

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