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News Wrap: U.S. skier Shiffrin, 18, becomes youngest to win slalom gold

February 21, 2014 at 6:01 PM EST
Mikaela Shiffrin skis the giant slalom at Sochi on Friday. Photo by Simon Bruty /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Ukraine pulled back from the brink just a bit today. The pro-Russian president reached agreement with pro-Western opposition leaders to limit his power and speed up elections. Protesters are supposed to disarm and withdraw, but it’s far from clear they will, after scores were killed and hundreds wounded this week.

James Mates of Independent Television News filed this report.

JAMES MATES: Independence Square in Kiev for once at a standstill, the only sound the chanting of priests, as the coffins of three of yesterday’s dead are ceremonially hoist above the crowd.

The death of so many for their cause is making it extremely difficult for those who live to settle for anything less than total victory. The deal that was signed today by embattled President Yanukovych, opposition leaders and two European foreign ministers is less than total victory.

It’s a compromise that will see a new constitution and fresh elections later this year. The foreign ministers of Germany and Poland have shuttled between the sites for almost 24 hours. Poland’s Radoslaw Sikorski was overheard warning the most hard-line protesters that there will be terrible consequences if this didn’t end.

RADOSLAW SIKORSKI, Foreign Minister, Poland: I hope — I hope that I’m wrong. If you don’t support this, you will have martial law, the army. You will all be dead.

JAMES MATES: A potent warning from a man who himself had fled martial law in Poland in the early ’80s. He later confirmed to me he had been deadly serious.

You were overheard warning them of the possibility of martial law if they didn’t accept the deal. Was the — is that a serious threat? Do think there was a real possibility that the army could have been sent in?

RADOSLAW SIKORSKI: To my knowledge, the interior troops were being readied.

JAMES MATES: They stepped back from the brink is what you’re saying?

RADOSLAW SIKORSKI: Well, as you can, it’s almost miraculous. Within minutes of the agreement being signed, the riot police are leaving.

JAMES MATES: And, indeed, the police were everywhere heading back to barracks. This morning they had ringed the country’s parliament. An hour or so later, there wasn’t a sign.

And the only police near Independence Square today were a group of 40 who had deserted their posts in the western city of Lviv and traveled here to join the protests. Little wonder perhaps that some protest leaders have no time for compromise want the president both out of office and on trial.

YAROSLAV KUCHER, Protest Leader: Yanukovych, go away from Ukraine. You are not the president here now. Your hands are in blood.

JAMES MATES: That is a sentiment you hear in every corner of the square. They don’t seem to be about to return to their homes, leaving behind them the shrines to their dead. There is a deal. The deal may in time bring this crisis to an end, but that is not a certainty.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Later in the day, Ukraine’s Parliament voted for the release of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko from prison. She’s a major rival of President Yanukovych.

In Washington, White House officials welcomed the turn of affairs and said President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the situation by phone. We will return to Ukraine right after the news summary.

In Moscow, eight Russians were convicted today of rioting at a 2012 protest against President Putin. Opponents called it a show trial, and outside the courthouse, police waded into a crowd that had gathered in support of the protesters. More than 200 people were arrested and carried off to waiting buses. The judge postponed sentencing for the eight defendants until Monday, after the Olympic Games conclude in Sochi, Russia.

As for the competition at the Olympics, a spoiler alert: Tune out for a moment, if you don’t want to know the results just yet. In men’s hockey, Canada beat the U.S. 1-0, and plays Sweden on Sunday for the gold medal. Canadian men also won gold in the curling competition. And 18-year old American Mikaela Shiffrin became the youngest ever gold medalist in Olympic slalom skiing.

In Somalia, the presidential palace came under attack today by Islamist militants linked to al-Qaida. A car bomb exploded at the compound in Mogadishu, and Al-Shabab gunmen then opened fire on the guards. When it was over, the site was strewn with wreckage. But the security minister said the president was unharmed and the militants were dead.

ABDIKARIM HUSSEIN, SSecurity Minister, Somalia (through interpreter): The attack was carried out by nine men equipped with machine guns. Seven of the nine men were shot dead by the security forces after a brief face-to-face fight, and the other two were driving the vehicles which exploded.

JUDY WOODRUFF: This was the latest in a series of recent attacks by Al-Shabab. The group had been ousted from Mogadishu in 2011.

A federal judge has ruled the New York City Police Department’s surveillance of Muslims in New Jersey was legal. The NYPD was accused of spying on mosques, restaurants and schools in the state since 2002. The judge ruled the operation was a legal effort to prevent terrorism and that it didn’t violate civil rights.

Arizona could become the first state to let businesses refuse service to gays on religious grounds. State lawmakers approved it last night. Supporters cited the example of wedding photographers who decline to work at gay ceremonies. Gay rights advocates warned the bill amounts to a license to discriminate. Governor Jan Brewer has not indicated whether she will sign it.

President Obama held a private meeting with the Dalai Lama today, over strong objections from China. Beijing has accused the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader of inciting violence in his quest for an independent Tibet, a charge he’s long denied.

Today, the Chinese denounced his White House visit.

HUA CHUNYING, Spokeswoman, Chinese Foreign Ministry (through interpreter): The Dalai Lama is a political exile who has long used the cloak of religion to engage in anti-China separatist activities. The meeting is a gross interference in China’s internal affairs and a serious violation of the norms of international relations. It will also seriously damage China-U.S. relations.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The meeting was closed to the press and the Dalai Lama left later without speaking to reporters.

The bankrupt city of Detroit filed its plan today on how to restructure its $18 billion of debt. It calls for slashing monthly pensions for general retirees by 34 percent, cutting pensions for retired police and firefighters by 10 percent, and offering bondholders about 20 percent of what they’re owed. The plan is subject to approval by a federal bankruptcy judge.

The nation’s railroads will adopt voluntary standards for hauling crude oil after a series of deadly accidents. The Associated Press reports the industry has agreed on slower speeds for oil trains in major cities and increased inspections, among other things. The number of tanker cars carrying crude has risen 40-fold since 2008.

Mortgage giant Fannie Mae reports that it’s ready to finish paying back its entire federal bailout. The company will send a dividend of $7.2 billion to the U.S. Treasury next month. Added to what it’s already paid, that will more than cover the $116 billion it received in 2008. Smaller sibling Freddie Mac has also fully repaid its bailout. The two agencies own or guarantee half of all U.S. mortgages.

On Wall Street today, the Dow Jones industrial average lost almost 30 points to close at 16,103. The Nasdaq fell four points to close at 4,263. For the week, the Dow lost three-tenths of a percent; the Nasdaq rose half-a-percent.