AP News in Brief at 4:58 a.m. EST

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Associated Press

Posted on March 6, 2013 at 4:30 AM

Updated Wednesday, Mar 6 at 7:30 AM

Maduro becomes Venezuela's interim leader and will run for president, just as Chavez ordained

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Even in death, Hugo Chavez's orders are being followed. The man he anointed to succeed him, Vice President Nicolas Maduro, will continue to run Venezuela as interim president and be the governing socialists' candidate in an election to be called within 30 days.

Foreign Minister Elias Jaua confirmed that Tuesday, just hours after Maduro, tears running down his face, announced the death of Chavez, the larger-than-life former paratroop officer who had presided over Venezuela as virtually a one-man show for more than 14 years.

It was not immediately clear when the presidential vote would be held.

Considerable funereal pageantry was expected to honor Chavez, the political impresario widely adored among Venezuela's poor for putting the oil-rich state in their service.

Seven days of mourning were declared, all school was suspended for the week and friendly heads of state were expected in this economically challenged and violence-afflicted nation for an elaborate funeral Friday. No date or place were announced for Chavez's burial.

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A photo gallery of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez' life and worldwide response to his death

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — It was a tearful, televised announcement of Venezuela's vice president that broke the news of the death of Hugo Chavez, the firebrand, larger-than-life socialist who led the nation for 14 years. Vice President Nicolas Maduro is the country's interim president until an election can be held. The 58-year-old's death after a two-year cancer battle drew cheers from Venezuelan immigrants in the U.S. who hoped for change in their homeland, and tears in Caracas. A look at images of Chavez's life and reaction around the world to his death:

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What record? 'Just another day' as Dow's all-time high doesn't impress Wall Street workers

NEW YORK (AP) — What record?

There were no signs of a celebration on Wall Street after the Dow Jones industrial average closed at an all-time high Tuesday. Like on any other day, traders rushed out the doors of the New York Stock Exchange after the closing bell and down the stairs of subway stations. Nearby office workers did the same.

Maybe the memories of the financial meltdown are too fresh, or outlook for the economy is too uncertain. But the only indication that something historic had transpired was the six television news cameras that faced the stock exchange. Even that perplexed some Wall Street denizens.

"Is that what this is about?" said one trader, referring to the cameras and reporters as he darted across Wall Street. He said he didn't have time to give his name because he was rushing to get home.

The Dow rose 125.95 points Tuesday and closed at 14,253.77, topping the previous record set on Oct. 9, 2007 by almost 90 points. The blue-chip index has more than doubled since falling to a low of 6,547 in March 2009 during the financial crisis. It's another sign that the country is slowly healing after the worst recession since the 1930s.

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DC region faces unique challenges from budget cuts due to concentration of federal workers

ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) — To get a sense of just how much federal government spending influences the Washington metropolitan area, all you have to do is listen to the ads on an all-news radio station there.

Instead of promoting happy hours and nightclubs, WTOP's commercials are replete with buzzwords about cloud computing and fulfilling mission statements — pitches by IT consultants and contractors trying to land business with federal agencies.

And the storm that was heading for the Mid-Atlantic on Tuesday? It's been dubbed "snowquester," a play on the D.C. wonk jargon that is used to describe the $85 billion that must be cut from federal budgets over the next six months after President Barack Obama and lawmakers failed to reach a deal that would reduce the national deficit.

Communities on the Capital Beltway have disproportionately benefited from the federal government's growth for decades — and there is no doubt they will now take a disproportionate hit from the budget cuts.

The federal government is the region's largest single employer and an economic engine. Thousands of federal government workers for agencies as varied as the CIA and the Patent and Trademark Office make their home in the area — about 15 percent of the total federal workforce, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Office of Personnel Management.

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Milan Cardinal Scola quotes Kerouac to youthful flock as speculation on papal chances swirl

VARESE, Italy (AP) — To illustrate that life is a journey, one of the Italian cardinals touted as a favorite to be the next pope doesn't just turn to the Scriptures — but also to Jack Kerouac and Cormac McCarthy.

Angelo Scola, the archbishop of Milan, is seen as Italy's best chance at reclaiming the papacy, following back-to-back popes from outside the country that had a lock on the job for centuries.

For one night last month, during the historic week that saw the shock resignation announcement of Pope Benedict XVI, Scola came across as a simple pastor leading a flock of twenty-somethings in a discussion about faith. The powerful cardinal displayed not only an ease with youth but also a desire to make himself understood, a vital quality for a church that is bleeding membership. It was a sharp contrast with Benedict, who was almost painfully shy in public.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: As the Roman Catholic Church prepares to elect a successor to Pope Benedict XVI, The Associated Press is profiling key cardinals seen as "papabili" — contenders to the throne. In the secretive world of the Vatican, there is no way to know who is in the running, and history has yielded plenty of surprises. But these are the names that have come up time and again in speculation. Today: Angelo Scola.

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UN says number of Syrians fleeing their country, seeking assistance hits 1 million

BERLIN (AP) — The number of Syrians who have fled their war-ravaged country and are seeking assistance has now topped the one million mark, the United Nations' refugee agency said Wednesday.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, said in a statement released in Geneva that the figure is based on reports from his agency's field offices in neighboring countries that have provided refuge for Syrians escaping the civil war.

"With a million people in flight, millions more displaced internally, and thousands of people continuing to cross the border every day, Syria is spiraling towards full-scale disaster," Guterres said.

Syria's uprising began in March 2011 with protests against President Bashar Assad's authoritarian rule. When the government cracked down on demonstrators, the opposition took up arms and the conflict turned into a full-blown civil war. The United Nations estimates that more than 70,000 people have been killed.

The relentless violence also has devastated many cities and forced hundreds of thousands of Syrians to seek refuge abroad.

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Flyers call policy allowing small knives, baseball bats, golf clubs on planes 'common sense'

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Flyers reacted with shrugs but largely agreed with a new policy announced by the Transportation Security Administration that airline passengers will be able to carry small knives and previously forbidden sports equipment on planes.

"It's common sense," said Pat O'Brien, who stood at Los Angeles International Airport after arriving from Durango, Colo. "You can make anything into a knife so I don't have a problem with it at all. You can sharpen a credit card to make a sharp implement."

Aviation security consultant John L. Sullivan agreed with O'Brien, saying a pen or toothbrush can be sharpened like the "shivs" inmates sometimes make in prison.

"There are a lot of things you can use on an airplane if you are intent on hurting someone," said Sullivan, co-founder of the Welsh-Sullivan Group in Dallas. "Security is never 100 percent."

The changes announced by the TSA Tuesday take effect April 25. Box cutters, razor blades and knives that don't fold or that have molded grip handles will still be prohibited.

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Winter snowstorm pummels Midwest, heads toward nation's capital and Mid-Atlantic states

HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) — After pummeling the nation's midsection with heavy snow, a late-winter storm was making its way Wednesday toward the nation's capital, where residents braced for the possibility of snarled traffic and power outages.

As the storm closed in, the federal government said its offices in the Washington, D.C., area would be closed Wednesday.

The storm had brought around 10 inches of snow to weather-hardened Chicago by late Tuesday, when snow was also starting to come down in parts of Virginia. Schools were closed in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois, and more than 1,100 flights were cancelled at Chicago's two major airports, prompting delays and closures at others.

Airlines along the storm's projected path were already cutting flights too, including hundreds more Wednesday, most of them at Dulles and Reagan National airports in the Washington area, according to FlightAware.com.

While there were no initial reports of major accidents in the Chicago area, a semi-trailer slid off a snow-covered interstate in western Wisconsin, killing one person. The search for a second person, believed to be a passenger, was suspended overnight.

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City Hall veterans pull away from field in Los Angeles mayoral election

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Two City Hall veterans took command in the contest to replace outgoing Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, setting up a likely runoff to determine who will lead a city troubled by double-digit unemployment and a looming budget gap.

"The creativity and the genius that is Los Angeles, we will bring back. And that's what I'm going to do as the next mayor of Los Angeles," city Councilman Eric Garcetti promised Tuesday night as he led the field with 34 percent of the vote.

With mail-in ballots and about 40 percent of precincts reporting, no candidate was in position to clear the majority needed to win outright. The top two finishers will go to a May 21 runoff, and Garcetti, 42, was followed closely by city Controller Wendy Greuel, 51, another Democrat who notched 29 percent of the vote.

Democratic Councilwoman Jan Perry was parked in third place, with 17 percent.

The election capped a lackluster primary campaign that was snubbed by most of the city's 1.8 million voters. Turnout was scant.

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Months after Superstorm Sandy flood, NYC hospital slowly rebuilds stocks of special lab mice

NEW YORK (AP) — It was one of the most dramatic stories from Superstorm Sandy: more than 300 patients including tiny babies safely removed from a flooded New York hospital that lost power. But in a research building at the complex, where thousands of lab mice were kept, the story had a sadder ending.

A storm surge into the basement swamped some 7,000 cages of mice used for studying cancer, diabetes, brain development and other health issues. Each cage held up to five of the little rodents, and even four months later, nobody knows exactly how many perished.

Now, about 50 scientists at the NYU Langone Medical Center are going through the slow process of replacing them. What they lost in a few minutes one terrible night in October will take more than a year to recover, at a cost of tens of millions of dollars.

That's because, for the most part, they can't simply buy the mice off the shelf. Most were tailor-made, engineered to carry specific genetic mutations to mimic human diseases and conditions like autism. Some breeds can be found only in a few labs worldwide. Others were too new to have been shared yet with researchers elsewhere and will take many months or even two years to recreate.

Besides the mice, researchers lost precious specimens and suffered damage to sensitive equipment from the blackouts and flooding from the nearby East River. The 700-bed hospital closed for almost two months; the emergency room is still shut down.

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