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

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Associated Press

Posted on April 4, 2014 at 9:02 PM

Updated Saturday, Apr 5 at 10:30 AM

Afghans defy Taliban threat to vote in crucial election

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghans flocked to polling stations nationwide on Saturday, defying a threat of violence by the Taliban to cast ballots in what promises to be the nation's first democratic transfer of power.

Amid tight security, men in traditional tunics and loose trousers, and women covered in burqas lined up at polling centers more than an hour before they opened in Kabul and elsewhere.

Excitement was high as Afghans chose from a field of eight presidential candidates as well as provincial councils. With three men considered front-runners, nobody was expected to get the majority needed for an outright victory so a runoff was widely expected.

Hundreds of thousands of Afghan police and soldiers fanned out across the country, searching cars at checkpoints and blocking vehicles from getting close to polling stations. Some voters were searched three times in Kabul, and text messages were blocked in an apparent attempt to prevent candidates from last-minute campaigning.

On Friday, veteran Associated Press photographer Anja Niedringhaus was killed and AP reporter Kathy Gannon was wounded when an Afghan policeman opened fire while the two were sitting in their car in the eastern city of Khost. The two were at a security forces base, waiting to move in a convoy of election workers delivering ballots.

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Investigators: Fort Hood gunman's suicide may keep motive for deadly shooting rampage unknown

FORT HOOD, Texas (AP) — Despite evidence that suggests Spc. Ivan Lopez had an argument before going on a shooting rampage, investigators said they may never determine what compelled the Fort Hood soldier to kill three soldiers and wound 16 others before taking his own life.

Lt. Gen. Mark Milley, Fort Hood's commander, said that an "escalating argument" precipitated the assault. He declined to discuss the cause of the argument but said investigators believe Lopez made no effort to target specific soldiers — even though at least one of the soldiers shot was involved in the dispute.

Milley would not say whether those involved were among the dead or wounded, or how many shooting victims had been a part of the argument.

"There was no premeditated targeting of an individual," he said.

However, the military has not established a "concrete motive" for Spc. Ivan Lopez's rampage, said Chris Grey, a spokesman for the Army's Criminal Investigation Command based in Quantico, Va.

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Ships search for missing Malaysian plane's 'black boxes' as mystery passes 4-week mark

PERTH, Australia (AP) — Search teams racing against time to find the flight recorders from the missing Malaysia Airlines jet crisscrossed another patch of the Indian Ocean on Saturday, four weeks to the day after the airliner vanished.

A multinational team is desperately trying to find debris floating in the water or faint sound signals from the recorders that could lead them to the aircraft and help unravel the mystery of its fate.

Finding floating wreckage is key to narrowing the search area, as officials can then use data on currents to backtrack to where the plane hit the water, and where the flight recorders may be.

Beacons in the black boxes emit "pings" so they can be more easily found, but the batteries only last about a month.

So far, there's been no sign of the Boeing 777.

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Despite dire warnings of landslide risk, unclear that Washington county could be found liable

SEATTLE (AP) — The warnings could hardly have been clearer. One technical report told of the "potential for a large catastrophic failure" of the 600-foot hillside above a rural neighborhood near Oso, on the Stillaguamish River. Another noted plainly that it "poses a significant risk to human lives and private property."

The danger was so apparent that Snohomish County officials mulled buying out the properties of the residents who lived there.

Instead, the county continued to allow the construction of homes nearby. Seven went up even after a significant slide approached the neighborhood in 2006.

Whatever the wisdom of its decision, the county might never be held liable in court for not doing more to protect residents, an outcome that would leave victims of last month's devastating landslide one fewer avenue for recovering financially for their damages.

Whether government agencies or landowners can be held liable for damages caused by landslides in Washington state is highly dependent on the facts of each case. Generally, governments are not liable except in narrow circumstances, such as if an agency specifically tells the residents they're safe before a slide, or if an agency takes it upon itself to fix a hazard but actually makes things worse.

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Governments, scientists to debate future of fossil fuels at climate meeting

BERLIN (AP) — After concluding that global warming almost certainly is man-made and poses a grave threat to humanity, the U.N.-sponsored expert panel on climate change is moving on to the next phase: what to do about it.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, will meet next week in Berlin to chart ways in which the world can curb the greenhouse gas emissions that scientists say are overheating the planet.

It is also trying to give estimates on what it would cost.

In the third report of a landmark climate assessment, the IPCC is expected to say that to keep warming in check, the world needs a major shift in investments from fossil fuels — the principal source of man-made carbon emissions — to renewable energy.

"Underlying this report is a lot of technical analysis of the different solutions, for example wind energy, solar, better energy efficiency and what is the cost of that," said Jake Schmidt, international climate policy director at the National Resources Defense Council, a Washington-based environmental group. "And there will also be some discussions of how deep global cuts are needed to put us onto these different climate trajectories."

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Home to vast biodiversity, Myanmar parks protected only on paper from blast fishing, poachers

LAMPI ISLAND, Myanmar (AP) — Off a remote, glimmering beach backed by a lush tropical forest, Julia Tedesco skims the crystalline waters with mask and fins, looking for coral and fish life.

"There is almost nothing left down there," the environmental project manager says, wading toward a sign planted on the shore reading "Lampi National Park."

Some 50 meters behind it, secreted among the tangled growth, lies the trunk of an illegally felled tree. Nearby, a trap has been set to snare mouse deer. And just across the island, within park boundaries, the beach and sea are strewn with plastic, bottles and other human waste from villagers.

The perilous state of Lampi, Myanmar's only marine park, is not unique. Though the country's 43 protected areas are among Asia's greatest bastions of biodiversity, encompassing snow-capped Himalayan peaks, dense jungles and mangrove swamps, they are to a large degree protected in name alone. Park land has been logged, poached, dammed and converted to plantations as Myanmar revs up its economic engines and opens up to foreign investment after decades of isolation.

Of the protected areas, only half have even partial biodiversity surveys and management plans. At least 17 are described as "paper parks" — officially gazetted but basically uncared for — in a comprehensive survey funded by the European Union.

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Retired general investigating problems in nuclear corps had given it positive marks last year

WASHINGTON (AP) — Service leaders took an assessment last year of the nuclear Air Force as an encouraging thumbs-up. Yet, in the months that followed, signs emerged that the nuclear missile corps was suffering from breakdowns in discipline, morale, training and leadership.

The former Air Force chief of staff who signed off on the 2013 report is now being asked to dig for root causes of problems that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says threaten to undermine public trust in the nation's nuclear arsenal.

The Air Force may have taken an overly rosy view of the report — it was not uniformly positive — by a Pentagon advisory group headed by retired Gen. Larry Welch. The study described the nuclear Air Force as "thoroughly professional, disciplined" and performing effectively.

The inquiry itself may have missed signs of the kinds of trouble documented in recent months in a series of Associated Press reports. In April 2013, the month the Welch report came out, an Air Force officer wrote that the nuclear missile unit at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., was suffering from "rot," including lax attitudes and a poor performance by launch officers on a March 2013 inspection.

An exam-cheating scandal at a nuclear missile base prompted the Air Force to remove nine midlevel commanders and accept the resignation of the base's top commander. Dozens of officers implicated in the cheating face disciplinary action, and some might be kicked out, the Air Force said last week.

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Hungary's governing Fidesz party seen winning in Sunday's elections, far-right Jobbik surging

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Hungary's governing party is tipped to win parliamentary elections Sunday, while a far-right party is expected to make further gains, according to polls.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban's Fidesz party and its small ally, the Christian Democrats, are expected to win easily and they may even retain the two-thirds majority in the legislature gained in 2010 which allowed them to pass a new constitution, adopt unconventional economic policies, centralize power and grow the state's influence at the expense of the private sector.

Polls predict Fidesz will win around 45-50 percent of the votes, with a close race for second between a coalition of five left-wing groups led by Attila Mesterhazy and the Socialist Party — seen getting 25 percent — and the surging far-right Jobbik party which could receive up to 20 percent.

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THE CHALLENGERS

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2 teams, 2 different worlds meet when Kentucky faces Wisconsin at Final Four

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — One and Dones?

Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan had a "Three and Done" one time. Devin Harris walked into his office after the 2004 season and told Ryan he wanted to head to the NBA.

"I told him that I would get back to him after I found out what the NBA people really felt," Ryan said of the eventual lottery pick. "And when I did find out and sat down and talked to him, he was just so relieved that I would allow him to go make a lot of money."

John Calipari lets his Kentucky players do that with regularity after only one season. He's had 11 One-and-Doners during his four-plus seasons at Kentucky and probably has a few more on this year's roster.

Wisconsin meets Kentucky in the Final Four on Saturday, in a national semifinal between two programs that approach the sport from completely different ends of the court.

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A look at the 8 candidates running for president in Afghanistan

Eight candidates are vying to succeed President Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan's election on Saturday. A look at the field:

ABDULLAH ABDULLAH: Having gained 31 percent of the vote as runner-up to Karzai in the disputed 2009 elections, Abdullah has an advantage in name recognition and political organization. He was a close aide to the late Ahmad Shah Masood, the Northern Alliance rebel commander famed for his resistance to Soviet occupation and the Taliban. Abdullah has a strong following among ethnic Tajiks in Afghanistan's north, but his perceived weak support among Pashtuns — Afghanistan's largest ethnic group at 42 percent — could keep him from gaining a majority of votes, even though he is half-Pashtun.

ZALMAI RASSOUL: A former foreign minister, Rassoul has been national security adviser to the government and is seen as close to Karzai. He could end up being a consensus candidate among many political factions. A Pashtun like Karzai, he has a medical degree and is fluent in five languages, including French, English and Italian. He lived in Italy for many years with Afghanistan's deposed King Zahir Shah, who died in Kabul in 2007.

ASHRAF GHANI AHMADZAI: Ghani is a former finance minister who ran in the 2009 presidential elections but received just 3 percent of the vote. A well-known academic with a reputation as a somewhat temperamental technocrat, Ghani chairs a commission in charge of transitioning responsibility for security from the U.S.-led coalition to Afghan forces. Ghani also worked at the World Bank.

ABDUL RASOUL SAYYAF: An influential former lawmaker and religious scholar, Sayyaf is one of the more controversial candidates among Afghanistan's foreign allies because of his past as a warlord during the 1990s civil war and allegations of past links to radical jihadists including Osama bin Laden. As a Pashtun and charismatic speaker, he may appeal to Afghanistan's large number of religious conservatives.

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