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10 things you need to know today: March 17, 2014
Crimea votes to secede from Ukraine, March Madness gets underway, and more
 
An election official stands next to ballot boxes in Bakhchisaraj, Ukraine. 
An election official stands next to ballot boxes in Bakhchisaraj, Ukraine.  (AP Photo/Max Vetrov)

1. Crimea votes to leave Ukraine and join Russia
Crimeans voted overwhelmingly Sunday to secede from Ukraine and join Russia. Officials said 96 percent favored breaking away. Crimea's parliament voted Monday to formally declare independence for the primarily ethnic-Russian peninsula. The U.S. and Europe were expected to announce sanctions on Moscow and warned it not to annex Crimea. President Obama said the U.S. would never recognize the secession vote. [The New York Times, Associated Press]
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2. March Madness begins
Florida was named the top-seeded team in this year's 68-team NCAA basketball tournament, which gets underway this week. The Gators, the favored team in the South region, went undefeated in the Southeastern Conference on the way to the SEC tournament championship. They play their first game Thursday. The No. 1 seeds in the other three brackets went to Arizona (West), Wichita State (Midwest), and Virginia (East). [Los Angeles Times]
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3. Guinness pulls sponsorship of New York's St. Patrick's parade
Irish brewer Guinness, a key sponsor, pulled out of New York City's Monday St. Patrick's Day parade over organizers' refusal to let gay organizations participate openly. Heineken and Sam Adams had already made similar moves. Mayor Bill de Blasio plans to boycott the parade, too. On Sunday, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh skipped his city's parade after the collapse of a deal to let gay groups march. [The Boston Globe, The Washington Post]
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4. General strikes a plea deal in sexual assault case
Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair reportedly has agreed to a plea deal calling for the dismissal of a rape charge in exchange for guilty pleas to lesser charges, including that he had an affair with a junior and later "maltreated" her. Army officials declined to confirm any deal, saying the outcome of the negotiations between prosecutors and the defense would be presented to a judge at Fort Bragg, N.C., on Monday. [The Washington Post]
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5. Westboro Baptist Church founder may be near death
The Rev. Fred Phelps Sr., founder of the virulently anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church, is "on the edge of death at Midland Hospice house in Topeka, Kansas," his son, Nathan Phelps, posted on Facebook. Spokesmen at the church, which is known for picketing military funerals and declaring soldiers' deaths to be God's punishment for tolerating homosexuality, said Phelps, 84, was not as sick as his son claimed. [Kansas City Star]
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6. Syria takes a key border town from rebels
Syrian government forces seized the longtime rebel stronghold of Yabrud near the Lebanese border on Sunday, dealing a painful blow to opposition fighters as their battle against President Bashar al-Assad's regime enters its fourth year. Government troops were aided by Lebanese Hezbollah militiamen, who had also helped take the border town of Qusayr last spring. [The New York Times]
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7. Sixteen Nigerians die in stampede of job applicants
At least 16 people died in Nigeria when 500,000 hopefuls rushed to apply for 4,556 government jobs, the official News Agency of Nigeria reported Sunday. Interior Minister Abba Moro said the people who were trampled "lost their lives through their impatience." Human rights activists, however, said the government bore responsibility because it invited more applicants than it could handle. [The Associated Press]
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8. Navy SEALs retake rebel-held tanker filled with Libyan oil
Navy SEALs recaptured a hijacked oil tanker from Libyan rebels late Sunday. The raid, off the coast of Cyprus, was requested by the governments of Cyprus and Libya. The tanker, Morning Glory, was seized earlier this month by three armed Libyans. It left a rebel-held eastern Libyan port on March 10, filled with 234,000 barrels of oil that militia seeking autonomy for the region hoped to sell. [BBC News]
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9. Greenland's ice sheet is melting faster than expected
Rising temperatures are melting Greenland's ice sheet at a quickening pace, according to a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change. Greenland is even losing ice in its northeast region, which was stable for 25 years but has seen its ice loss triple since 2003. Scientists say the melting of so much of Greenland's ice sheet, second in size only to Antarctica's, will cause global sea levels to rise. [USA Today]
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10. Seinfeld's "Newman" is the victim of a death hoax
Wayne Knight, known to Seinfeld fans as Newman, emphatically denied on Sunday that he had died, after several outlets reported a day earlier that the actor was killed in a tractor-trailer accident near the Pennsylvania–New York state border. "Some of you will be glad to hear this, others strangely disappointed," Knight tweeted. "But — I am alive and well!" [Daily News]

Editor's note: This article originally misstated the number of Nigerians who were killed in a stampede. It has since been corrected. We regret the error.

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Harold Maass is a contributing editor at TheWeek.com. He has been writing for The Week since the 2001 launch of the U.S. print edition. Harold has worked for a variety of news outlets, including The Miami HeraldFox News, and ABC News.

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