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NOVO-OZERNE, Ukraine (AP) — For years, the little Crimean town was closed off from the rest of the world, a secretive community, at the edge of a key Soviet naval base, sealed by roadblocks and armed guards.

Today, to get to Novo-Ozerne, you just follow a pitted two-lane road far into the Crimean countryside, past collective farms abandoned decades ago and villages where it's hard to see any life, even at midday.

There's not much in town anymore, just the occasional ship that has sailed up the Black Sea inlet to this isolated spot, a handful of crumbling navy buildings, and an armory ringed by barbed wire.

But the Russians want it.

And the little forgotten town is now sharply divided, torn between those who welcomed the arrival here over the weekend of dozens of Russian soldiers wearing unmarked uniforms, and those who back the Ukrainians who are refusing to surrender their weapons.

"We know who they are and we see (what they are doing) as terrorism," said Sergei Reshetnik, a local businessman furious over the Russians' arrival. "We just want to live quietly."

The standoff in Novo-Ozerne between Russian and Ukrainian soldiers is a scene playing out across Crimea, days after Moscow effectively seized political power across the strategic Black Sea peninsula, establishing a pro-Russian regional government backed up by hundreds — perhaps thousands — of soldiers. The seizure of power came after months of street demonstrations in the capital, Kiev, which forced out Ukraine's president, the pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych. The new government has taken a sharp turn away from Moscow, and is eager to form closer ties to the European Union.

But if Russia expected the Ukrainian military to go easily, handing over its weapons as soon as it was asked, things turned out far more complicated. Instead, military installations across Crimea — many of them surrounded or taken over by Russian forces — have refused to surrender, raising the tension and leading to fears of all-out combat. Ukraine's new government has ordered the bases to remain loyal to Kiev.

In Novo-Ozerne, the standoff had turned into an impasse by Monday afternoon. After the initial confrontation, the Russians had moved most of their forces away from the base and into an abandoned building, leaving about a dozen heavily armed soldiers in hurriedly built trenches outside the armory.

The commanders have talked a few times, trying to avoid the chance of accidental bloodshed, and things often looked fairly normal, with soldiers, their wives and girlfriends passing easily in and out of the main Ukrainian base.

Outside the armory, members of pro-Russian self-defense groups — which have often worked closely with the Russian military — set up a perimeter to search vehicles leaving the compound.

They were thrilled at the Russians' arrival.

To them, what happened in Kiev was a coup staged by anti-Russian fascists who they fear will punish the ethnic Russians who dominate this part of Ukraine. So, they said, they were making sure no weapons made it out of the armory.

"We don't want to become another Yugoslavia here," said Alexei Maslyukov, a local resident who organized the checkpoint, barely 50 feet (15 meters) from where masked Russians watched with automatic weapons.

In many ways, what happened in this town is unusual. Crimea was a crown jewel of the czarist and Soviet empires, and ethnic Russians moved here in droves over the years. After the fall of the Soviet Union and Ukraine's independence, many Crimeans continued to see themselves as more Russian than Ukrainian.

By all appearances, most Crimeans have welcomed the Russian military, and given only scattered support to the Ukrainian soldiers.

But this town, which outwardly is just another vision of post-Soviet decay, with its identical concrete-block apartments and empty storefronts, is shockingly diverse. There are Russians and Tatars, the Turkic people who once dominated Crimea. There are Azeris, Gypsies and Jews. Few of these people have any loyalty to Moscow.

The village, which once numbered more than 12,000, now has fewer than half that many people. The Soviets took most of their ships and equipment with them at independence, leaving the naval installations little more than piles of concrete and decades-old weaponry.

"Whatever they didn't want, that's what they left here," said Reshetnik, the local businessman.

The town now depends on summer tourists for much of its income. The population almost doubles again during the key summer tourist months, with thousands attracted by the chance of a cheap holiday along the water.

Many fear the standoff could scare away the travelers.

"The tourist season will be totally screwed," grumbled Reshetnik. "People are already broke."

Dozens of local residents turned out early Monday to demonstrate their support for the Ukrainians, with many shouting angrily at Russian soldiers to leave the base's main gate. And, in fact, the Russians did soon withdraw.

That fact made the base's acting commander smile.

"Talking to them, I know that they are ready to come here and stand as defense between us and the Russians," said Vadim Filipenko.

His forces are clearly outgunned. The Ukrainian soldiers are ready for an attack, standing at the main gate with their fingers just off the triggers of their AK-47s.

But the armored vehicle parked behind them, with its spray-painted tires and splotches of rust, appears to have been used for decoration until just a few days ago.

___

Follow Tim Sullivan on Twitter athttp://www.twiter.com/SullivanTimAP

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Striving for unity among Democrats rather than compromise with Republicans, President Barack Obama will unveil an election-year budget on Tuesday that drops earlier proposals to cut future Social Security benefits and seeks new money for infrastructure, education and job training.

But Obama's almost $4 trillion budget plan is likely to have a short shelf life. It comes just three months after Congress and the White House agreed to a two-year, bipartisan budget pact that has already set the parameters for this election year's budget work. Democrats controlling the Senate have already announced they won't advance a budget this year and will instead skip ahead to the annual appropriations bills for 2015, relying on new spending "caps" set by December's budget deal that provide $56 billion less than what Obama wants in 2015.

Obama would divide the extra money equally between the Pentagon and domestic initiatives like boosting manufacturing hubs, job training and preschool programs and cutting energy waste. Republicans are likely to balk at the idea, which would be paid for by curbing special interest tax breaks and making spending cuts elsewhere in the budget.

Obama has also announced a four-year, $302 billion plan to boost spending on highways, rail projects and mass transit. Half of the initiative would be financed through corporate taxes. Funding for highway and mass transit projects expires at the end of September, and there's bipartisan interest in finding a supplemental funding stream to augment stagnant revenues from the $18.4 cents-per-gallon gasoline tax.

Obama's budget arrives after a tumultuous year that began with Obama muscling through a 10-year $600 billion-plus tax increase on upper-bracket earners. Feeling stung, Republicans refused to yield on about $80 billion in automatic spending cuts that began in March. Then, conservatives in the GOP forced a 16-day partial government shutdown over funding to implement the nation's new health insurance program. The small-bore, two-year budget deal struck by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., emerged from the wreckage to alleviate the toughest automatic cuts.

With no design or expectation of luring Republicans into more budget negotiations in this election year, Obama's blueprint presents his vision for boosting job growth and favored initiatives like education. The White House announced earlier Obama was dropping a plan opposed by most Democrats in his budget proposal a year ago to slow Social Security cost of living increases.

The budget also will flesh out a plan Obama announced in his State of the Union address to expand the earned income tax credit for childless workers, helping more than 13 million. It would also boost the tax credit for child care and help people sign up for individual retirement accounts.

"This year the administration is returning to a more traditional budget presentation that is focused on achieving the president's vision for the best path to create growth and opportunity for all Americans, and the investments needed to meet that vision," the White House said in a statement last month.

Republicans are sure to brush aside most of Obama's new initiatives. Ryan released a report Monday criticizing many federal anti-poverty programs, saying they should be redesigned to better help the poor escape poverty. It found that many poor people have little incentive to find work or work more because higher incomes mean lower benefits.

The success that Washington has had in curbing spending over the past several years has come mostly at the expense of "discretionary" spending for agency operating budgets approved by Congress each year. The $521 billion defense budget for this year amounts to 3.5 percent of the size of the economy, according to the Congressional Budget Office, down from 5.4 percent of gross domestic product 40 years ago.

Discretionary spending on nondefense programs has dropped from 3.9 percent in 1974 to 3.4 percent today. Meanwhile, autopilot spending on benefit programs like Social Security, Medicare, food stamps and insurance subsidies under the new health care law are growing rapidly as a percentage of the economy.

Obama's budget does little to arrest these trends. And it arrives as dropping deficits have sapped much of Washington's urgency for tackling the government's fiscal problems. The deficit fell to $680 billion last year — still large but far smaller than the $1 trillion-plus deficits that plagued his first term.

Obama's austere request for the Pentagon, including cuts to Army personnel, the National Guard and the much-criticized littoral combat ship and a move to retire the Air Force's A-10 fighter, has already provoked howls of outrage from defense hawks. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Obama's proposal "guts our defense."

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the $28 billion in extra defense money that Obama seeks would permit the Pentagon to increase training, improve aircraft and weapons systems and repair military facilities.

Obama will recommend tax changes that would generate billions in revenues to help pay for those initiatives. They include curtailing what the administration views as tax avoidance schemes by U.S. companies with profits earned overseas and by foreign-owned companies with operations in the United States.

One measure, according to administration officials, would limit the ability of companies to take advantage of differences in tax rules from country to country. A second would restrict the ability of multinational corporations to assign much of their debt to U.S. operations to take advantage of U.S. interest deductions. A third would classify as taxable the income from certain digital transactions that have escaped U.S. taxation.

The proposals are part of an international effort by leading economies to limit tax avoidance by multinational companies. Administration officials said the proposals in the budget would raise several billion a year and could be part of a broader tax overhaul that would be used to reduce corporate tax rates.

Obama is also likely to reprise a host of familiar tax increases such as limiting deductions for upper-income taxpayers and closing tax breaks for oil and gas companies. They have been routinely rejected in the past.

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WASHINGTON (AP) — On the latest snow day in a winter full of them, residents of parts of the South, Mid-Atlantic and Northeast were coping with several inches of snow on top of a layer of slush.

With accumulations of 4-to-6 inches in Washington, Monday's storm would have been the largest in the nation's capital in all of last year. But in the seemingly endless winter of 2013-2014, it came 2 ½ weeks after a much bigger storm, and the region settled into a familiar routine of hunkering down.

Schools and government offices were closed. Federal workers stayed home. Young adults gathered on the sloppy, slushy National Mall for a semi-organized, afternoon snowball fight.

By early afternoon, the snow had stopped. But the region will face yet another challenge: another blast of bitterly cold arctic air. Temperatures were expected to dip into the single digits along the Eastern Seaboard on Monday night. That doesn't usually happen after March 1, which is sometimes referred to as the start of "meteorological spring."

If the forecast holds, it would be only the third single-digit day after March 1 in the recorded history of the nation's capital — and the previous two were in 1872 and 1873, according to the National Weather Service.

Records were in danger elsewhere, too. In New Jersey, nearly 6 inches fell in some areas, which could make it the eighth snowiest winter in the last 120 years.

"It's one of the more disruptive winters of the last several decades," New Jersey state climatologist David Robinson said.

Federal workers are familiar with the routine. This was the fourth time this winter that the government has shut down because of weather — the most such closures since the back-to-back "Snowmaggeddon" storms of February 2010.

In downtown Washington, the roads were messy but passable, and the snow had stopped by early afternoon. The worst conditions came during what would have been morning rush hour, but traffic was all but nonexistent. Commuter trains were canceled, Amtrak was on a limited schedule, and while the Metro subway system stayed open, the massive parking garage at the Springfield, Va., station was nearly empty.

Jim Lee, meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service in Sterling, Va., noted that every decade in Washington, there are only 6 days with 6-plus inches of snow.

"We've had pretty close to two of them this year, already — and winter's not over," Lee said.

Tourists, who flock to the nation's capital 365 days a year, were seeking out whatever activities they could find.

In the morning, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments inside a chamber packed with out-of-town visitors and legal wonks. By noon, crowds were growing at the National Air and Space Museum, the only Smithsonian institution that was open Monday. Among them were Russ Watters, 60, of St. Louis, and his 14-year-old son, Seth, who was touring Washington with his 8th-grade class.

"We're trying to find stuff that's open, so this is open," Watters said. The group planned to stay on their bus and get drive-by lessons on the city's monuments in the afternoon.

Government offices and schools were also closed throughout Delaware, parts of which got 6-plus inches.

Further south, there were more problems. The Richmond, Va., area got several inches of snow, and Virginia State Police troopers had responded to more than 800 traffic crashes across the state by 3 p.m. Monday. Police reported one fatal weather-related crash southeast of Richmond.

Governors declared states of emergency in Virginia and Tennessee, where there were hundreds of traffic crashes and tens of thousands of power outages.

More than 2,800 flights in the United States were canceled as of Monday afternoon, according to flight tracking site FlightAware.com. The bulk of the problems were at airports in Washington, New York and Philadelphia.

In Texas, An American Airlines jet taxiing to a maintenance hangar slid off a taxiway at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport during freezing weather Monday. A spokeswoman for the airline said there were no passengers on board and nobody was hurt. The MD-80 jet came to a stop in a grassy area and wasn't damaged, the spokeswoman said. Winter weather advisories have been issued from Monday evening into Tuesday in parts of the state.

In suburban Falls Church, Va., dozens of pre-teen daredevils went sledding and snowboarding down a steep hill behind an elementary school. But Maya Luera, 11, was unhappy that the snow day would force the school system to tack another day onto the end of the year.

"I'm more of a summer person, so I'd rather have more free time in the summer than the winter," she said.

___

Associated Press writers Brett Zongker in Washington; Matthew Barakat in Falls Church, Va.; Adrian Sainz and Sheila Burke in Memphis, Tenn.; Geoff Mulvihill in Haddonfield, N.J.; and Steve McMillan in Richmond, Va., contributed to this report.

___

Follow Ben Nuckols on Twitter at https://twitter.com/APBenNuckols.

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ST. LOUIS (AP) - The Missouri statewide tornado drill scheduled for Tuesday is being pushed back two days because of the recent winter weather and other factors.
 
The Missouri State Emergency Management Agency says the drill will now be at 1:30 p.m. Thursday. The drill is part of Missouri 2014 Severe Weather Awareness Week, which runs through Friday.
 
 March typically is the start of the tornado season and the drill will include the sounding of warning sirens. Residents are encouraged to seek shelter during the drill just as they would if an actual tornado was imminent.
   
 
Monday, 03 March 2014 16:11
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