Ukraine to hold joint military exercises with U.S., UK, leave Russia-dominated alliance

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- Russian forces seized military installations across the disputed Crimean Peninsula on Wednesday, prompting Ukraine’s security chief to announce that his country will hold joint military exercises with the United States and Britain.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was in Lithuania, trying to reassure nations along Russia’s borders who were terrified by the sight of an expansion-minded Moscow.

"We’re in this with you, together," Biden said.

Ukraine has been powerless to prevent Russian troops from taking control of Crimea, which Russian President Vladimir Putin annexed on Tuesday. A day later, masked Russian-speaking troops moved into Ukraine’s naval headquarters in the Crimean city of Sevastopol, detaining the head of Ukraine’s navy and seizing the facility. They faced no resistance.

Andriy Parubiy, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, said the government was drawing up plans to evacuate its outnumbered troops from Crimea back to the mainland and will seek U.N. support to turn the peninsula into a demilitarized zone.

Analysis: Russia’s takeover of Ukraine tests the core
of Obama’s foreign policy

WASHINGTON (AP) -- For President Barack Obama, Russia’s aggressive annexation of Crimea is testing central tenets of his foreign policy philosophy: his belief in the power of direct diplomacy, his preference for using economic sanctions as punishment and his inclination to proceed cautiously in order to avoid creating larger long-term problems.

The question facing the White House now is whether actions that have done little to stop Russia from claiming Crimea are tough enough to stop further escalations by Moscow. And if they continue to prove insufficient, what else is Obama willing to do to change Vladimir Putin’s calculus?

The menu of additional options appears limited. The White House says a military response is not being considered, and officials have so far resisted calls to supply Ukraine’s fledgling government with military equipment. Instead, the U.S. is likely to focus on financial assistance to Ukraine and deepening economic sanctions against Russian officials whom the White House deems responsible for the crisis.

White House spokesman Jay Carney vowed Wednesday that "more action will be taken." He indicated that financial penalties could spread to the Russian arms sector, wealthy oligarchs and additional Kremlin officials.

Malaysia, FBI analyze
data deleted from flight simulator of pilot on missing jetliner

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) -- The FBI joined forces with Malaysian authorities in analyzing deleted data on a flight simulator belonging to the pilot of the missing Malaysia Airlines plane, while distraught relatives of the passengers unleashed their anger Wednesday -- wailing in frustration at 12 days of uncertainty.

The anguish of relatives of the 239 people on Flight 370 boiled over at a briefing near Kuala Lumpur’s airport. Two Chinese women who shouted at Malaysian authorities and unfurled a banner accusing officials of "hiding the truth" were removed from the room.

Files containing records of flight simulations were deleted Feb. 3 from the device found in the home of the Malaysia Airlines pilot, Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah, Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu said.

It was not immediately clear whether investigators thought that deleting the files was unusual. The files might hold signs of unusual flight paths that could help explain where the missing plane went.

NYC inmate ‘basically baked to death’ in overheated jail cell

NEW YORK (AP) -- Jerome Murdough was just looking for a warm place to sleep on a chilly night last month when he curled up in an enclosed stairwell on the roof of a Harlem public housing project where he was arrested for trespassing.

A week later, the mentally ill homeless man was found dead in a Rikers Island jail cell that four city officials say had overheated to at least 100 degrees, apparently because of malfunctioning equipment.

The officials told The Associated Press that the 56-year-old former Marine was on anti-psychotic and anti-seizure medication, which may have made him more vulnerable to heat. He also apparently did not open a small vent in his cell, as other inmates did, to let in cool air.

"He basically baked to death," said one of the officials, who all spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not permitted to discuss specifics of the case.

The medical examiner’s office said an autopsy was inconclusive and that more tests were needed to determine Murdough’s exact cause of death. But the officials, all with detailed knowledge of the case, say initial indications from the autopsy and investigation point to extreme dehydration or heat stroke.

U.S. announces $1.2B settlement with Toyota,
files criminal charge for ‘misleading statements’

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Toyota agreed to pay $1.2 billion to settle an investigation by the U.S.government, admitting that it hid information about defects that caused Toyota and Lexus vehicles to accelerate unexpectedly and resulted in injuries and deaths.

Attorney General Eric Holder said Wednesday that the penalty is the largest of its kind ever imposed on an auto company. The four-year criminal investigation focused on whether Toyota promptly reported the problems related to unintended acceleration.

The company admitted to misleading consumers and regulators by assuring them that it had adequately addressed an acceleration problem stemming from ill-fitting floor mats-- which attracted widespread publicity in 2009 following a car crash in San Diego that killed a family of four -- through a limited safety recall of certain models.

Toyota knew at the time that it had not recalled other models susceptible to the same problem and also took steps to conceal from regulators a separate acceleration problem related to a faulty pedal, according to the Justice Department.

"In other words, Toyota confronted a public safety emergency as it if were a simple public relations problem," Holder said at a news conference.

Toyota’s $1.2B penalty
offers possible glimpse into
future of General Motors

DETROIT (AP) -- General Motors, beware.

Wednesday’s announcement that Toyota will pay $1.2 billion to avoid criminal prosecution for hiding information in a recall case could be a glimpse into your future. It’s also a warning to anyone selling cars in the U.S.: Although the federal government’s road-safety watchdog doesn’t have big fangs, the Justice Department does.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s maximum fine for hiding information is $35 million, a pittance to automakers. But the Justice Department can reach deeper into your wallet and hurt your reputation with damning public statements.

Shortly after the announcement, Attorney General Eric Holder issued an apparent warning to GM and other automakers, saying the Toyota deal was "not necessarily the only time we will use this approach."

General Motors Co., which is facing a federal criminal probe over delays in recalling small cars with a deadly ignition switch problem, has many parallels to the Toyota case.

Israel warplanes strike targets in Syria, escalating tensions after roadside bombing

JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israeli warplanes unleashed a series of airstrikes on Syrian military posts early Wednesday, killing one soldier and wounding seven in one of the most serious clashes between the countries in the past four decades.

The airstrikes came in retaliation for a roadside bombing a day earlier in the Golan Heights that wounded four Israeli soldiers on patrol along the tense frontier with Syria. The overnight raids marked a sharp escalation of activity for Israel, which largely has stayed on the sidelines during Syrian President Bashar Assad’s battle against rebels trying to topple him.

It is unclear which of the many groups fighting in Syria may have planted Tuesday’s bomb. But Israel has said it holds Assad responsible for any attacks emanating from his country, and accused his forces of allowing the attack to take place.

"Our policy is clear. We hurt those who hurt us," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said Assad would "regret his actions" if attacks continue.

Israel captured the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau overlooking northern Israel, from Syria in the 1967 Mideast war. It later annexed the area, though that move is not internationally recognized.

Texas finds new execution drug supply; prison officials refuse to name source

HOUSTON (AP) -- Texas has obtained a new batch of the drugs it uses to execute death row inmates, allowing the state to continue carrying out death sentences once its existing supply expires at the end of the month.

But correction officials will not say where they bought the drugs, arguing that information must be kept secret to protect the safety of its new supplier. In interviews with The Associated Press, officials with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice also refused to say whether providing anonymity to its new supplier of the sedative pentobarbital was a condition of its purchase.

The decision to keep details about the drugs and their source secret puts the agency at odds with past rulings of the state attorney general’s office, which has said the state’s open records law requires the agency to disclose specifics about the drugs it uses to carry out lethal injections.

"We are not disclosing the identity of the pharmacy because of previous, specific threats of serious physical harm made against businesses and their employees that have provided drugs used in the lethal injection process," said Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clark.

The dispute in the state that executes more inmates than any other comes as major drugmakers, many based in Europe, have stopped selling pentobarbital and other substances used in lethal injections to U.S. corrections agencies because they oppose the death penalty.