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April 17, 2014

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AP Top News at 5:16 p.m. EST

Updated Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014 | 2:16 p.m.

Helicopters search for stranded Southern drivers

ATLANTA (AP) — Helicopters took to the skies Wednesday to search for stranded drivers while Humvees delivered food, water and gas — or a ride home — to people who were stuck on roads after a winter storm walloped the Deep South. Students spent the night on buses or at schools, commuters abandoned their cars or slept in them and interstates turned into parking lots. The problems started when schools, businesses and government offices all let out at the same time. As people waited in gridlock, snow accumulated, the roads froze, cars ran out of gas and tractor-trailers jackknifed, blocking equipment that could have treated the roads. In the chaos, though, there were stories of rescues and kindness.

A look at the wild weather in the Deep South

A look at the winter storm that crippled the Deep South: SNOWFALL

Bitterness of Syrian war on display at talks

GENEVA (AP) — The bitterness and rancor stirred by Syria's civil war were on full display this week at peace talks in Switzerland — and not just in the closed room where rival delegations are seeking a way to end the three-year conflict. For the first time since the country devolved into its bloody civil war, supporters and opponents of President Bashar Assad — many of them journalists — are meeting face to face. The mix is producing more than just awkward moments between people with vastly different views.

Assad adviser rejects call for transitional govt

GENEVA (AP) — Syrian President Bashar Assad's adviser on Wednesday rejected the opposition's call for a transitional governing body and suggested for the first time that a presidential election scheduled to be held later this year may not take place amid the raging violence. The comments by Bouthaina Shaaban in an interview with The Associated Press came as U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi announced that the first phase of the Syria peace talks in Geneva will end on Friday, as scheduled, and that the gap between the government and the opposition remains "quite large."

Obama executive omissions leave some allies angry

WASHINGTON (AP) — For some White House allies, the long list of executive actions President Barack Obama announced in his State of the Union address was marred by a few glaring omissions. Gay rights advocates are seething over Obama's refusal to grant employment discrimination protections to gays and lesbians working for federal contractors, safeguards they have been seeking for years. And some immigration overhaul supporters were disappointed that he did not act on his own to halt deportations, which have soared during his presidency and angered many Hispanics.

Ukraine lawmakers offer protester amnesty

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine's parliament has passed a measure offering amnesty to arrested protesters, but only if demonstrators vacate most of the buildings they occupy. The measure, passed on Wednesday after nearly 12 hours of negotiation, was not supported by the opposition parties driving the two months of protests that pushed the country into crisis.

After threat, NY rep. faces temperament questions

NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm has never been shy about promoting himself as a tough guy. When he ran for Congress in 2009, he highlighted his service in the Marines and as an undercover FBI agent. After his election, he brushed off allegations that he'd once brandished a gun during an early-morning altercation at a New York City nightclub by saying he was armed but hadn't verbally threatened to kill anyone.

Monarch butterflies drop, migration may disappear

MEXICO CITY (AP) — The stunning and little-understood annual migration of millions of Monarch butterflies to spend the winter in Mexico is in danger of disappearing, experts said Wednesday, after numbers dropped to their lowest level since record-keeping began in 1993. Their report blamed the displacement of the milkweed the species feeds on by genetically modified crops and urban sprawl in the United States, extreme weather trends and the dramatic reduction of the butterflies' habitat in Mexico due to illegal logging of the trees they depend on for shelter.

Cruise ship passengers recall days of misery

BAYONNE, N.J. (AP) — Passengers aboard a cruise ship on which hundreds fell ill recalled days of misery holed up in their rooms or the infirmary as the Explorer of the Seas returned to its home port Wednesday after a Caribbean trip cut short by a suspected outbreak of norovirus. Retiree Bill Rakowicz, 61, from the city of St. Thomas in Ontario, Canada, said he thought he was just seasick when he began suffering from vomiting, pain and diarrhea caused by the outbreak that sickened nearly 700 passengers and crew.

Egypt to put 20 Al-Jazeera journalists on trial

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt said 20 journalists, including four foreigners, working for Al-Jazeera will face trial on charges of joining or aiding a terrorist group and endangering national security — an escalation that raised fears of a crackdown on freedom of the press. It was the first time authorities have put journalists on trial on terrorism-related charges, suggesting authorities are expanding the reach of a heavy-handed crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood since the military's ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi on July 3.