AP News in Brief at 5:58 a.m. EDT

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Associated Press

Posted on April 20, 2014 at 5:02 AM

Updated Sunday, Apr 20 at 6:30 AM

Divers find bodies in sunken ferry as death toll tops 50; 250 still missing; kin furious

MOKPO, South Korea (AP) — The confirmed death toll from South Korea's ferry disaster rose past 50 on Sunday as divers finally found a way inside the sunken vessel, quickly discovering more than a dozen bodies in what almost certainly is just the beginning of a massive and grim recovery effort.

About 250 people are still missing from the ship, the vast majority of them high school students who had been on a holiday trip. Anguished families, waiting on a nearby island and fearful they might be left without even their loved ones' bodies, have vented their fury, blocking the prime minister's car during a visit and attempting a long protest march to the presidential Blue House.

The ferry Sewol sank Wednesday off South Korea's southern coast, but it took days for divers to get in because of strong currents and bad visibility due to foul weather. Beginning late Saturday, when divers broke a window, and continuing into Sunday, multiple teams of divers have found various routes into the ferry, discovering bodies in different spots, coast guard official Koh Myung-seok said at a briefing. Thirteen bodies have been found in the ship, while six other bodies were found floating outside Sunday, bringing the official death toll to 52, the coast guard said.

Divers, who once pumped air into the ship in the slim hope that survivors were inside, have yet to find anyone alive there.

A 21-year-old South Korean sailor, surnamed Cho, also died from injuries he sustained Wednesday while working on a warship going to help rescue passengers in the ferry, said Cmdr. Yim Myung-soo of the South Korean navy.

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Delay in evacuation of SKorean car ferry puzzles maritime experts; vessels can capsize quickly

MOKPO, South Korea (AP) — It is a decision that has maritime experts stumped and is at odds with standard procedure: Why were the passengers of the doomed South Korean ferry told to stay in their rooms rather than climb on deck?

Evacuations can be chaotic and dangerous, and an important principle in maritime circles is that even a damaged ship may be the best lifeboat. But car ferries like the Sewol, which left about 300 people missing or dead when it sank Wednesday, are different.

Under certain conditions — like those that confronted the Sewol — car ferries are particularly susceptible to rapid capsizing. This makes it critically important that when there is trouble, the crew quickly evacuate passengers, or at least gather them in preparation to abandon ship.

Though experienced, the captain of the Sewol, Lee Joon-seok, delayed evacuation for at least half an hour after the ship began tipping. Passengers, most of them teenagers on holiday, were initially told to stay below deck.

"If you would have not said a word to them, they would have left to the deck to see what was going on," and a crucial step in any evacuation would have been accomplished, said Mario Vittone, a former U.S. Coast Guard maritime accident investigator and inspector. "They certainly made it worse than saying nothing at all."

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APNewsBreak: Land grabs in 1 of Africa's last elephant bastions puts herds in poachers' sights

WASHINGTON (AP) — Political and military elites are seizing protected areas in one of Africa's last bastions for elephants, putting broad swaths of Zimbabwe at risk of becoming fronts for ivory poaching, according to a nonprofit research group's report that examines government collusion in wildlife trafficking.

Zimbabwe has maintained robust elephant populations compared with other countries on the continent. But economic penalties imposed by the United States and Europe have led Zimbabweans with ties to President Robert Mugabe's ruling party to find new methods of making money. The report, set for release Monday, says they may be turning to elephants' highly valued ivory tusks.

Zimbabwe's embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.

Born Free USA, an animal advocacy group, commissioned the report from Washington-based C4ADS to better understand the role organized crime and corrupt government officials play in ivory trafficking across Africa, said Adam Roberts, Born Free USA's chief executive officer.

Wildlife trafficking long has been viewed as a conservation issue, but it has exploded into an illicit global economy monopolized by mafia-like syndicates and enabled by high-level bureaucrats and powerful business interests. The report describes a toxic combination of conflict, crime and failures of governance throughout Africa that threatens to wipe out the continent's dwindling elephant herds.

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Crowd overflows from St. Peter's Square for Pope's Easter Mass under sunny skies

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Celebrating Easter Sunday, Christianity's most joyous day, Pope Francis stood under sunny skies before a flock so numerous they overflowed the flower-bedecked St. Peter's Square.

Even before Mass began in late morning, more than 100,000 tourist, Romans and pilgrims, young and old, had turned out for the Mass. Many more streamed in throughout the ceremony.

The broad boulevard leading from the square to the Tiber river filled up with the faithful and the curious, trying to catch a glimpse of the pontiff at the altar under a canopy erected on the steps of St. Peter's Basilica.

A rainstorm had lashed Rome on Saturday night, with thunder competing with the sound of hymns when Francis led a vigil service in St. Peter's Basilica. Dawn brought clear skies and warm temperatures for Easter, the culmination of Holy Week, the day which marks the Christian belief that Jesus rose from the dead after his crucifixion.

This year the Roman Catholic church's celebration of Easter coincided with that of the Orthodox church and some of the hymns at the Vatican Mass were in Russian.

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4 French journalists freed from Syrian captors return home to joyful families, ransom queries

PARIS (AP) — Four French journalists kidnapped and held for 10 months in Syria returned home Sunday to joyful families, a presidential welcome and questions about how France managed to obtain their freedom from Islamic extremists.

The four — Edouard Elias, Didier Francois, Nicolas Henin and Pierre Torres — were freed by their kidnappers a day earlier at the Turkish border. They were captured in two separate incidents last June.

At an emotional welcome ceremony at Villacoublay military airport outside Paris, President Francois Hollande saluted their return as "a moment of joy" for France.

"This is a day of great joy for them as you can imagine, for their families ... but it is a day of great joy for France," he said.

Hollande saluted Turkish authorities for helping in the journalists' return but did not elaborate.

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Once an underground phenomenon, pot holiday tries to go mainstream in Colorado

DENVER (AP) — Once the province of activists and stoners, the traditional pot holiday of April 20 has gone mainstream in the first state in the nation to legalize recreational marijuana.

Tens of thousands gathered for a weekend of Colorado cannabis-themed festivals and entertainment, from a marijuana industry expo called the Cannabis Cup at a trade center north of downtown, to 4/20-themed concerts at the legendary Red Rocks Amphitheater — acts include Slightly Stoopid and Snoop Dog — to a massive festival in the shadow of the state capitol where clouds of cannabis smoke are expected to waft at 4:20 p.m. MDT Sunday.

The festival in Denver's Civic Center Park is the most visible sign of the transformation. It started as a defiant gathering of marijuana activists, but this year the event has an official city permit, is organized by an events management company and featured booths selling funnel cakes and Greek food next to kiosks hawking hemp lollipops and glass pipes.

Gavin Beldt, one of the organizers, said in a statement that the event is now a "celebration of legal status for its use in Colorado and our launch of an exciting new experience for those attending. "

On Saturday, the first day of the two-day festival, only a few people lingered on the steps of a Roman-style amphitheater where marijuana activists spoke angrily about bans on the drug in other states. Thousands instead lingered on the park's broad lawns, listening to hip-hop music blasting from the sound stage and enjoying the fresh, albeit marijuana-scented, air.

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City of love, or locks? Paris mulls options of lovers' runaway fad: Hitching locks to bridges

PARIS (AP) — Without love, what is Paris? And yet what is a trip to Paris without unfettered vistas of the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre or Notre Dame from bridges over the River Seine?

Concerns about scenery are clashing with sentimentality in this reputed City of Love over a profusion of padlocks hitched by lovers on bridges as symbols of everlasting "amour" — locks that some decry as an eyesore.

Part of a global phenomenon, the craze has grown in Paris recently and now two American women who call Paris home have had enough. They've launched a petition to try to get the city's mostly laissez-faire officials to do something. City leaders say they're exploring alternatives.

In urban myth, it goes like this: Latch a padlock to a bridge railing and chuck the key into the water as you make a wish. Some say the tradition has its roots in 19th-century Hungary. Others cite a recent Italian novel as the inspiration.

Campaigners Lisa Taylor Huff and Lisa Anselmo are denouncing what they call a padlock plague, warning of alleged safety risks and arguing the craze is now a cliche. Their petition, at http://www.change.orgwww.change.org , says "the heart of Paris has been made ugly" by the locks and the Seine has been polluted by thousands of keys.

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Rocky landslide slowly devours part of Wyoming resort town

JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) — What's happening in this Wyoming resort town might be better described as a land creep than a landslide, but the lack of speed has not hindered the sheer power of the moving earth.

Over the past two weeks, a piece of East Gros Ventre Butte has slowly collapsed toward the west side of Jackson — shearing one hillside home in half, threatening to devour several others and looming ever more ominously over a cluster of businesses below.

No one can say precisely when the mountainside will cease its slow droop into Jackson or finally give way. But it appears increasingly likely that it's going to take a piece of Jackson with it.

Emergency workers have tried in vain to shore up slow-moving slope, attracting a steady parade of the curious and camera-wielding gawkers.

"We don't know what Mother Nature wants to do here. She's shown us quite a bit," Jackson Fire Chief Willy Watsabaugh said as he stood at the edge of the slide zone, its rocky slope rising sharply behind him.

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John Houbolt, NASA engineer vital to 1969 moon landing success, dies at age 95

SCARBOROUGH, Maine (AP) — John C. Houbolt, an engineer whose contributions to the U.S. space program were vital to NASA's successful moon landing in 1969, has died. He was 95.

Houbolt died Tuesday at a nursing home in Scarborough, Maine, of complications from Parkinson's disease, his son-in-law Tucker Withington, of Plymouth, Mass., confirmed Saturday.

As NASA describes on its website, while under pressure during the U.S.-Soviet space race, Houbolt was the catalyst in securing U.S. commitment to the science and engineering theory that eventually carried the Apollo crew to the moon and back safely.

His efforts in the early 1960s are largely credited with convincing NASA to focus on the launch of a module carrying a crew from lunar orbit, rather than a rocket from Earth or a space craft while orbiting the planet.

Houbolt argued that a lunar orbit rendezvous, or lor, would not only be less mechanically and financially onerous than building a huge rocket to take man to the moon or launching a craft while orbiting the Earth, but lor was the only option to meet President John F. Kennedy's challenge before the end of the decade.

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Durant scores 33, leads Thunder past Grizzlies 100-86 in series opener

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Kevin Durant put a dazzling end to Memphis' gritty comeback.

The Grizzlies erased most of a 25-point deficit before Durant, the league's scoring champion, got hot. He scored 13 of his 33 points in the fourth quarter to help the Oklahoma City Thunder defeat Memphis 100-86 on Saturday night in the opening game of their first-round playoff series.

The Thunder already were regaining control in the fourth quarter before Durant took over. He scored 11 points in a 5-minute, 21-second surge that stretched Oklahoma City's lead from seven points to 14 and put the game out of reach.

"We just stayed together," Durant said. "We made plays in the fourth quarter. The third quarter was tough for us, but we stayed together. We didn't stray away."

Russell Westbrook had 23 points and 10 rebounds and Serge Ibaka added 17 points and nine rebounds for the Thunder.

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