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Saturday, May 10, 2014,AP News in Brief at 5:58 a.m. EDT

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Posted: May 10, 2014 4:00 AM

Updated: May 10, 2014 4:00 AM

In emotional return, residents check on their damaged homes after rebels leave Syrian city

HOMS, Syria (AP) Hundreds of Syrians, some snapping photographs with their cell phones, wandered down paths carved out of rubble in the old quarters of Homs on Friday, getting their first glimpse of the horrendous destruction that two years of fighting inflicted on rebel-held parts of the city.

The scenes that greeted them were devastating: City blocks pounded into an apocalyptic vista of hollow facades of blown-out buildings. Dust everywhere. Streets strewn with rebar, shattered concrete bricks, toppled telephone poles and the occasional charred, crumpled carcasses of cars.

For more than a year, President Bashar Assad's troops blockaded these neighborhoods, pounding the rebel bastions with his artillery and air force. Under a deal struck this week, the government assumed control of the old quarters, while in return some 2,000 rebel fighters were granted safe passage to opposition areas north of Homs.

The final piece of the agreement fell into place Friday afternoon as the last 300 or so rebels left Homs after an aid convoy was allowed into two pro-government villages in northern Syria besieged by the opposition. The aid delivery was part of the Homs agreement.

The withdrawal was a major victory for the government in a conflict that has killed more than 150,000 people since March 2011. The deal handed Assad control of the city once known as "the capital of the revolution," as well as a geographic linchpin in central Syria from which to launch offensives on rebel-held territory in the north.

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Ukraine's new PM gains stature with image of integrity, self-sacrifice despite missteps

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) When new Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk invited anti-corruption activists to his apartment in Kiev last month, the first thing he showed off was his toilet. "See for yourself," Yatsenyuk joked. "It's not gold."

It was a jab at ousted president Viktor Yanukovych, who along with his government cronies had a notorious penchant for gaudy luxury.

Yatsenyuk's interim government is seeking to carry out sweeping reforms to break from a culture of self-interest, cynicism and corruption that left the country on the verge of bankruptcy. Images of chandeliers, gilded pillars and ornate marble flooring that emerged from Yanukovych's mansion after he fled caused revulsion across Ukraine.

By contrast, Yatsenyuk flies economy, lets whistleblowers into his home and readily admits to mistakes. Those qualities have helped him grow in stature and win support for his administration even as Ukraine struggles to avoid a possible breakup.

Yatsenyuk leads a motley team of young pro-Western professionals, idealists, nationalists and heroes of the Maidan protests named after the square that was the magnet of dissent as well as veterans of rough-and-tumble Ukrainian politics. As the eclectic group assumed power in February, it knew it faced a daunting challenge: State coffers were empty, the country was deeply polarized and the protest movement was not willing to give the new government any easy breaks.

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Robust recruitment of female candidates boost Democratic election hopes in rough year

WASHINGTON (AP) A woman nicknamed Rocky. A daughter of former migrant farmworkers. A child of politics.

These female candidates for the House embody Democratic hopes in a rough election year.

President Barack Obama's unpopularity is a drag on his fellow Democrats, and no one is talking seriously about breaking the GOP lock on the House in midterm elections, when the president's party traditionally loses seats.

But Democrats, after robust recruiting of female candidates, are counting on women to knock out a few GOP men.

That's where Rocky from New Mexico 39-year-old Roxanne "Rocky" Lara comes in.

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A greener White House: Project finishes installing solar panels on roof of president's home

WASHINGTON (AP) An array of solar panels blanketing the roof of the White House is getting its day in the sun.

Technicians have finished installing the panels at the nation's most famous address, capping a project that President Barack Obama hopes will send a clear signal that renewable energy is both feasible and environmentally shrewd.

Citing security and other concerns, the White House won't say how many panels now encase the top of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. or how much they cost. But the panels are expected to generate 6.3 kilowatts of solar power whenever the sun shines, the White House said, improving the building's energy efficiency.

Obama seeks to use his personal example to spur American families and businesses to do more to reduce reliance on foreign energy and cut emissions blamed for global warming.

"Solar panels at the White House are a really important message that solar is here, we are doing it, we can do a lot more," Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said in a video released by the White House.

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Judge opens door for gay couples in Arkansas to get married in overturning state ban

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) An Arkansas judge has opened the door for gay couples in Arkansas to wed, ruling that the state's ban on same-sex marriage has "no rational reason" for preventing gay couples from marrying.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza ruled Friday that Arkansas' 2004 voter-approved amendment to the state constitution violates the rights of same-sex couples. He didn't put his ruling on hold as some judges have done in other states, and it's possible gay couples could begin seeking marriage licenses Saturday, if they can find a clerk willing to issue them.

In striking down the ban, Piazza wrote that it is "an unconstitutional attempt to narrow the definition of equality."

"The exclusion of a minority for no rational reason is a dangerous precedent," he said in his ruling.

State Attorney General Dustin McDaniel's office said he would appeal the ruling and asked Piazza to suspend it during that process.

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Fighting Kennedy with Kennedy: Justice's latest words used to try to boost gay marriage bans

WASHINGTON (AP) The pro-gay rights rulings of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy have been a key spark in the march toward legalized gay marriage. To counter the trend, same-sex marriage opponents now are seizing upon other opinions by Kennedy himself.

It was Kennedy who last month defended the right of voters to decide sensitive issues, in a ruling that upheld Michigan's ban on taking race into account in college admissions.

At least five states have invoked Kennedy's opinion in the Michigan case to argue that voters and elected officials, not judges, should choose whether same-sex couples can be married or have their marriages recognized within their borders.

"This case is not about how the debate about same-sex marriage should be resolved. It is about who may resolve it," Tennessee's governor and attorney general said in an appellate brief filed Thursday, using language lifted almost word for word from Kennedy's Michigan opinion.

The sentence merely substituted "same-sex marriage" for "racial preferences." Tennessee is asking the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to undo a preliminary ruling that forced the state to recognize same-sex marriages from other states.

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Reports: Hot-air balloon catches fire; no wreckage found; 3 unaccounted for

DOSWELL, Va. (AP) A hot-air balloon is believed to have caught fire and crashed in Virginia after colliding with a power line, according to state police, who were searching for the wreckage, a pilot and two passengers after eyewitnesses said they saw the balloon in flames and heard screams for help.

Virginia State Police received calls about a balloon crash shortly before 8 p.m. Friday, police spokeswoman Corinne Geller told a news conference, according to several news media reports. She said a pilot and two passengers were believed to be on board, and that police believe it was the balloon's gondola that caught fire after it apparently struck a power line.

She said police had not yet found any wreckage but planned to search throughout the night, initially by ground and possibly by air if weather allowed. Severe storms were forecast for the area, she said. Geller did not immediately respond to a telephone message left by The Associated Press.

Carrie Hager-Bradley said she saw the balloon in flames on her way home from the grocery store and heard people yelling, according to WWBT TV.

"They were just screaming for anybody to help them," the station quoted her as saying. "'Help me, help me, sweet Jesus, help. I'm going to die. Oh my God, I'm going to die,'" Hager-Bradley said she heard one person screaming.

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Anger at China in Vietnam to test Hanoi as it scrambles to respond to China oil rig deployment

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) Vietnamese anger toward China is running at its highest level in years after Beijing deployed an oil rig in disputed waters. That's posing a tricky question for Vietnam's leaders: To what extent should they allow public protests that could morph into those against their own authoritarian rule?

At one level, the ruling Communist Party would like to harness the anger on the street to amplify its own indignation against China and garner international sympathy as naval ships from both countries engage in a tense standoff near the rig off the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.

But Vietnam's government instinctively distrusts public gatherings of any sort, much less ones that risk posing a threat to public order. And they also know that members of the country's dissident movement are firmly embedded inside the anti-China one, and have used the issue to mobilize support in the past.

On Saturday, around 100 people protested outside the Chinese Consulate in the country's commercial capital, Ho Chi Minh City, watched on by a large contingent of security officers. Dissident groups have called for larger demonstrations on Sunday in Ho Chi Minh City and in Hanoi, the capital.

The two Asian nations have a history of conflict going back 1,000 years, and the streets of Vietnam's cities are named after heroes in those fights. In the more recent past, the navies have twice had deadly engagements in the South China Sea. There was a brief but bloody border war in 1979. All have a created a deep well of mistrust toward China among ordinary Vietnamese.

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Dynamic duo: The success of musical maestros Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre

NEW YORK (AP) They truly are marching to the beat of their own drum.

It's as if anything Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre touches turns to gold: The dynamic duo marked epic-level success when they introduced Eminem to the music world 15 years ago, and their lucrative Beats by Dre business reached blockbuster heights following reports that Apple plans to by the headphone's parent company, Beats Electronics, for $3.2 billion.

But the music industry veterans have had a string of triumphs, and we take a look at why we never seem to never forget about Dre and Iovine.

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STARTED FROM THE BOTTOM

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2014 NFL Draft: Decision day for Michael Sam is here as last 4 rounds await

NEW YORK (AP) Decision day has arrived for Michael Sam.

The NFL draft will conclude with Rounds 4 through 7 on Saturday, and when and if Sam is selected is sure to be the most significant development.

The Southeastern Conference defensive player of the year last season for Missouri came out as gay in media interviews this year. He told all his teammates and coaches before the season.

Sam would become the NFL's first openly gay player. The question is: What team will give him that shot, and will he be selected in the draft?

He was thought to be a middle-to-late round draft pick after the season and his stock dropped after a poor combine workout. The 6-foot-2, 255-pound Texan is considered a tweener too small to play defensive line in the pros and not fast enough to be an every down outside linebacker.

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