AP News in Brief at 10:58 p.m. EDT

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Associated Press

Posted on May 9, 2014 at 10:03 PM

State Dept. says US Embassy officials in Yemen killed 2 during attempted abduction last month

WASHINGTON (AP) — Two officers at the U.S. Embassy in Yemen shot and killed a pair of armed Yemeni civilians during an attempted abduction of the Americans at a Sanaa business last month, the State Department said Friday.

The officers have left Yemen, Marie Harf, a spokeswoman for the State Department, said in a statement. No other details were provided.

Citing unidentified U.S. officials, The New York Times reported that the Americans were a CIA officer and a lieutenant colonel with the elite Joint Special Operations Command who were visiting a barber shop in an upscale district in Yemen's capital.

Within days of the shooting both Americans left Yemen with the approval of the Yemeni government, the newspaper reported. It said the shooting occurred on April 24.

Earlier this week, the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa closed temporarily because of attacks on Westerners. A day before Tuesday's closure, gunmen opened fire on three French security guards working with the European Union mission in the Yemeni capital, killing one and wounding another.

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

DOSWELL, Va. (AP) — Authorities say a hot-air balloon has possibly caught fire and crashed in Virginia and three people are unaccounted for.

Several local news media outlets quoted Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller as saying that authorities received a report of the crash shortly before 8 p.m. Friday near Meadow Event Park in Caroline County.

Geller said a pilot and two passengers were believed to be in the balloon's gondola, and that according to witness accounts it was the gondola that caught fire. But she said police had not yet found any wreckage.

Geller said police would search for the balloon throughout the night, initially on the ground and possibly later by air if weather conditions improved. Severe storms were expected in the area.

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Putin makes first trip to Crimea since annexation; battle in Ukrainian city kills at least 7

SEVASTOPOL, Crimea (AP) — Sailing into this Black Sea port Friday amid a jubilant spectacle of fighter jets and warships, President Vladimir Putin celebrated the return of Crimea to Russia as "historic justice" during a Victory Day display of military pomp and patriotism.

The gravity of the crisis gripping the rest of Ukraine was underscored by deadly clashes in the east, where fighting left bodies in the streets of the seaside city of Mariupol and the police station a smoldering ruin.

At least seven people were killed and dozens injured in the city, one of at least a dozen where pro-Russian insurgents are agitating to follow Crimea's lead in seceding from Ukraine.

Speaking before a cheering crowd of thousands on a triumphant first visit to Crimea since its annexation into Russia, Putin hailed the incorporation of its 2 million people as a "return to the Motherland" and a tribute to the "historical justice and the memory of our ancestors."

The Russian leader's visit to the Crimean port of Sevastopol, where Russia's Black Sea Fleet is based, came on Victory Day, which commemorates the defeat of Nazi Germany and is Russia's most important holiday. The trip was strongly criticized by the United States, NATO and Ukraine's Foreign Ministry, which said it trampled on Ukraine's sovereignty and international law.

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British, US experts join search for kidnapped Nigerian girls; report criticizes Nigerian army

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — The international effort to rescue the 276 schoolgirls being held captive by Islamic extremists in northeastern Nigeria was boosted Friday when British security experts joined the Nigerian and American forces trying to rescue the missing students.

As the worldwide effort got underway the weakness of the Nigerian military was exposed in a report issued by Amnesty International.

Britain said its aim was not only to help with the current crisis but to defeat Boko Haram.

"The team will be considering not just the recent incidents but also longer-term counter-terrorism solutions to prevent such attacks in the future and defeat Boko Haram," the Foreign & Commonwealth Office said in a statement Friday.

The American team was joined by six additional military officers and more are expected soon, said Pentagon spokesman Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby. The U.S. officers will do a "gap analysis," an assessment to identify what the Nigerian military needs that the U.S. could provide in the search for the girls, he said.

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RNC changes rules on presidential debates as Koch-backed group plans $125 million effort

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Lunging for control of the GOP ahead of high-stakes elections, the Republican National Committee on Friday took steps to end free-for-all presidential debates and vowed to punish potential contenders who participate in rogue forums.

At the same time, an independent organization with deep ties to the conservative Koch brothers has elected to spend $125 million on the battle for control of the Senate this fall, giving the 168-member central party meeting a stark reminder that outside groups will have significant sway over Republican political fortunes through the 2016 presidential race.

One of those potential presidential contenders, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, publicly broke with the GOP over voting rights, saying in an interview that officials should stop passing state laws that tighten controls on voting. The New York Times published the article Friday, the same day Paul spoke at a luncheon during the RNC meeting.

As he opened the party's meeting, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said the national committee can't control everything in politics. "But we have an important mission," he said, "and we're going to get the job done."

As he spoke, reports circulated that Americans for Prosperity plans to escalate its television advertising across the nation, improve voter data collection and strengthen its 31-state ground operation. It was a bracing reality check for the RNC: Despite the committee's efforts, the GOP establishment won't be the only one setting Republican priorities.

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Judge strikes down Arkansas Constitution's gay marriage ban; state expected to appeal

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A judge on Friday struck down Arkansas' ban on same-sex marriage, saying the state has "no rational reason" for preventing gay couples from marrying.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza ruled that the 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, opening the door for same-sex couples in Arkansas to begin seeking marriage licenses, though it was not clear whether that would happen before Monday.

"This is an unconstitutional attempt to narrow the definition of equality," Piazza wrote. "The exclusion of a minority for no rational reason is a dangerous precedent."

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

"We respect the Court's decision, but, in keeping with the Attorney General's obligation to defend the state constitution, we will appeal," spokesman Aaron Sadler said.

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Benghazi dispute: GOP names team for new House probe, while Dems hold out for more-even terms

WASHINGTON (AP) — Despite Democratic complaints, Republicans jumped into a new election-season investigation of the deadly Benghazi assault on Friday, naming majority members of a special House committee. Democrats mulled a boycott of the panel, which is inspiring bitter partisanship before even starting its work.

House Speaker John Boehner immediately took to social media to highlight his seven-member Republican team. Democrats have five seats to fill, if they decide to participate at all in what Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi derided as a "political stunt."

"For whatever reason, everything seems to be partisan," acknowledged Rep. Trey Gowdy, a second-term Republican and former prosecutor from South Carolina whom Boehner picked last week to head the committee. Gowdy expressed his hope that a fair Benghazi investigation would transcend politics, but he also suggested Democrats would have to accept that "one side gets more strikes than the other side when you're constituting a jury."

The Republicans' roster includes veterans of previous House examinations of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack that killed a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.

The House approved the formation of the committee Thursday, with every Republican voting in favor and only seven Democrats crossing party lines to join them. It is the eighth investigation thus far on Benghazi. The panel is authorized to work through the end of the year, past November's midterm elections when the GOP hopes to win control of the Senate.

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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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Veterans relay frustration over 'broken system' to Sen. John McCain at Phoenix forum

PHOENIX (AP) — Several veterans voiced their anger and frustration to Sen. John McCain on Friday over what they call a broken Veterans Affairs system as the Republican said that reported lapses in care in Phoenix are part of a nationwide problem that needs to be fixed.

"Friends, this is not a unique situation as far as Arizona is concerned," McCain said. "I emphasize everyone is innocent until proven guilty, but this appears to be a problem of nationwide implications."

The VA has been under fire in recent weeks, ever since critics contended that administrators in Phoenix kept an off-the-books list to conceal long wait times as 40 veterans died waiting to get an appointment. Similar problems have since been reported in other states. McCain hinted at possible prosecution in the Phoenix cases.

"If these allegations are true, there a violation of law. It's not a matter of resignations, it's a matter whether somebody goes to jail or not," said McCain, evoking thunderous applause from the crowd of more than 100 people.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki said this week he has ordered an audit of access to care at all VA medical centers. Three executives of the veterans hospital in Phoenix have been placed on administrative leave amid an investigation into allegations of corruption and unnecessary deaths at the facility.

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NFL DRAFT 2014: Raiders grab Fresno State QB Derek Carr in 2nd round

NEW YORK (AP) — For once, Derek Carr didn't emulate his older brother.

David Carr was the top overall pick in the 2002 NFL draft, the first player ever taken by the Houston Texans. Derek, who also went to Fresno State and, like his elder brother enters the league with a wife and child, went 36th overall when Oakland selected him in the second round Friday night.

Eleven years younger than David, Derek Carr also must hope he gets better protection with the Raiders than David did with Houston. David Carr never reached the expectations of a No. 1 pick, in great part because he was sacked so often during his time with the Texans.

"I learned everything that he did right and everything that he did wrong," Derek Carr said. "He told me that if he could do anything, he hopes he made the path smoother for me as I transition into the NFL."

Derek Carr rewrote the Bulldogs' record book, throwing for more than 10,000 yards and 100 touchdown passes.

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