More than 80 injured in partial London theater collapse; all those trapped have been freed

LONDON (AP) -- The roof or ceiling of a London theatre partially collapsed Thursday night, showering a packed audience of about 700 with heaps of plaster, wood and dust, authorities and witnesses said. More than 80 people were injured, including at least seven seriously, and several trapped theater-goers had to be rescued.

The collapse happened at the Apollo Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue at 8:15 p.m. (2015 GMT; 3:15 p.m.) during a performance of "The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Nighttime" at the height of the Christmas holiday season.

"Complete chaos" erupted in the theater as the debris rained down, said Martin Bostock, who came with his family to see the show, which is based on the best-selling novel by Mark Haddon.

"At first we thought it was part of the show," he told Sky News. "Then I got hit on the head."

Witnesses said audience members were screaming "Get out! Get out!" as they fled the theater and were shaking with fear when they reached the street outside.

Targets: About 40M credit, debit accounts may have been affected by data breach

Target is grappling with a data security nightmare that threatens to drive off holiday shoppers during the company’s busiest time of year.

The nation’s second largest discounter said Thursday that data connected to about 40 million credit and debit card accounts was stolen as part of a breach that began over the Thanksgiving weekend.

The data theft marks the second largest credit card breach in the U.S. after retailer TJX Cos. announced in 2007 that at least 45.7 million credit and debit card users were exposed to credit card fraud.

Target’s acknowledgement came a day after news reports surfaced that the discounter was investigating a breach.

The chain said customers who made purchases by swiping their cards at terminals in its U.S. stores between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15 may have had their accounts exposed. The stolen data includes customer names, credit and debit card numbers, card expiration dates and the three-digit security codes located on the backs of cards.

NSA surveillance debate is turning in favor of those seeking further limits

WASHINGTON (AP) -- In a sharp and unexpected shift, the national debate over U.S.government surveillance seems to be turning in favor of reining in the National Security Agency’s expansive spying powers at home and abroad.

It’s happened suddenly, over a span of just three days. First, a federal judge ruled that the NSA’s bulk collection of telephone records was unconstitutional, and then a presidential advisory panel recommended sweeping changes to the agency. Together, the developments are ratcheting up the pressure on President Barack Obama to scale back the controversial surveillance programs.

Even Russian President Vladimir Putin chimed in on Thursday. He said U.S. surveillance efforts are necessary to fight terrorism and "not a cause for repentance," but he, too, said they should be limited by clear rules.

Obama is in no way obligated to make substantial changes. And, countering the public criticism he faces, he hears internal appeals from intelligence officials who insist the collection of phone and Internet data is necessary to protect the U.S. from terror attacks.

But even that argument has been undermined in the course of an extraordinary week. Federal Judge Richard Leon said in a ruling on Monday -- its effect stayed, pending appeal -- that even if the phone data collection is constitutional, there is little evidence that it has prevented terror attacks. The intelligence advisory panel, which had access to significant amounts of classified information and counted as a member a former acting director of the CIA, came to the same conclusion in its 300-page report.

Syrian opposition activists on the run as they become target for al-Qaida militants

BEIRUT (AP) -- Shortly after the revolt against President Bashar Assad erupted in March 2011, Imad al-Souri quit his computer job to help the protests. He uploaded online videos of the marches and sneaked banned loudspeakers to demonstrators to amplify their voices calling for Assad’s downfall.

Not anymore.

The 28-year-old al-Souri recently fled to Turkey, fearing he would be killed or abducted by Islamic militants who are now the most powerful force in the rebellion and who are increasingly targeting those seen as opposed to their extremist ideologies. It’s not an idle fear -- dozens of activists have been abducted by radicals and, like, al-Souri, dozens of those who shaped the initial uprising against Assad have fled.

"They want to liquidate me because I am a secular person," said al-Souri, speaking via Skype from his apartment on the Turkish-Syrian border, which he shares with two other activists who also fled. "They are waiting for me to return to kill me." He spoke on condition he be identified by the nickname he uses as an activist for his own protection.

It’s a depressing turn for anti-government activists. At the start of the uprising, they worked in secrecy because of Assad’s ruthless security services. Now they fear some of their once-presumed protectors: rebels who took up arms initially to defend protesters from the violent crackdown by Assad’s forces.

Egyptian police raid rights group offices; court acquits Mubarak’s 2 sons of some charges

CAIRO (AP) -- Egypt’s military-backed authorities on Thursday stepped up their crackdown on the liberal icons of the 2011 uprising against Hosni Mubarak, with security forces storming the headquarters of a rights group and arresting six activists, including a prominent youth organizer.

Hours after the early morning raid in downtown Cairo, a criminal court in the Egyptian capital acquitted Hosni Mubarak’s two sons and his last prime minister of corruption charges in a case arising from a land sale dating back to some 20 years ago. The sons remain in detention and still face other corruption charges.

Five of the six activists were released after nearly seven hours in detention. One of the five, lawyer Mahmoud Bilal, described in a news conference how plainclothes policemen blindfolded, beat and verbally abused them after binding their hands.

Already in detention are three of the 2011 uprising’s best known youth leaders -- Alaa Abdel-Fattah, Ahmed Douma and Ahmed Maher -- who are accused of breaking a recently introduced law that places draconian conditions on street protests and of assaulting police.

The raid and the acquittal of Mubarak’s sons and Ahmed Shafiq will likely lend credibility to growing suspicions that the government installed by the powerful military after its July ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi is prepared to accommodate Mubarak-era figures to broaden its support base as it grapples with near-daily street protests from Morsi supporters and growing dissent by liberal and secular youth groups.

Pa. pastor defrocked over officiating son’s gay wedding, says he’ll appeal decision

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- United Methodist officials defrocked a pastor from central Pennsylvania on Thursday for violating church doctrine by officiating his son’s gay marriage, leaving the minister shocked and upset that he could be punished for an "act of love."

Frank Schaefer immediately appealed the penalty, which he believed was meted out reluctantly by many members of the regional Board of Ordained Ministry.

"So many of them came to me and they shook my hand and some hugged me, and so many of them had tears in their eyes," Schaefer said. "They said, ‘We really don’t want to do this, you know that, don’t you?"’

Board members declined to comment after the private meeting at church offices in Norristown. But John Coleman, a spokesman for the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of the denomination, said Schaefer left officials no choice after defying the order of a religious jury to resign.

"When asked to surrender his credentials as required by the verdict, he refused to do so," Coleman said. "Therefore, because of his decision, the board was compelled by the jury’s decision to deem his credentials surrendered."

New Mexico’s highest court declares same-sex marriage legal

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) -- New Mexico became the latest state to legalize gay marriage Thursday as its highest court declared it is unconstitutional to deny marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.

Justice Edward L. Chavez said in a ruling that none of New Mexico’s marriage statutes specifically prohibits same-sex marriages, but the state’s laws as a whole have prevented gay and lesbian couples from marrying.

Same-sex couples have been subjected to a history of discrimination and violence, the justices said. Barring them from getting married violates the state constitution’s equal protection clause.

"We hold that the State of New Mexico is constitutionally required to allow same-gender couples to marry and must extend to them the rights, protections and responsibilities that derive from civil marriage under New Mexico law," Chavez wrote.

The high court rejected opponents’ argument that defining marriage as being between a man and a woman relates to the "important, overriding governmental interests" of having and raising children.

Fired U.S. nuke general allegedly engaged in alcohol-fueled ‘inappropriate behavior’ in Russia

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Air Force general who was fired from his post as head of U.S. land-based nuclear missile forces engaged in "inappropriate behavior" while on official business in Russia last summer, including heavy drinking and associating with "suspect" women, according to an investigation report released Thursday.

The events took place during a trip Maj. Gen. Michael Carey made in July as the leader of a U.S.government delegation to a nuclear security training exercise. At the time, he was commander of the 20th Air Force, responsible for 450 Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missiles stationed in five U.S. states.

Carey’s firing was one of several setbacks for the nuclear force this year. The Associated Press has documented serious security lapses and complaints of low morale and "rot" within the force, leading to the sidelining of 17 officers.

After the trip, a member of the delegation complained to the Air Force Inspector General’s office about Carey’s behavior. After interviews with delegation members, including Carey, investigators concluded that he "engaged in inappropriate behavior" that amounted to "conduct unbecoming of an officer and a gentleman," as defined in the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

"Maj. Gen. Carey kept late hours and consumed alcohol every day of the trip," the report said, "even to the point where it was visibly noticeable ... (and) one witness was concerned that Maj. Gen. Carey needed assistance standing."

Ethnic violence spreads in South Sudan; Americans and other foreigners are evacuated

JUBA, South Sudan (AP) -- Less than three years after its creation, the world’s newest country is beginning to fracture along ethnic lines in violence that has killed hundreds of people. What could come next, some warn, is ethnic cleansing.

South Sudan’s numerous ethnic groups have battled each other for decades, but for years their animosity was united in hatred of the government in Khartoum, Sudan, the country’s former capital. When the south gained independence in 2011, the groups’ common enemy receded, exposing the fault lines -- this week, even among the presidential guard.

On Thursday, armed youths breached a U.N.compound in Jonglei state, causing an unknown number of casualties.

Emergency evacuation flights took away American and British citizens, aid workers and United Nations personnel to escape the violence.

South Sudan’s government declared that its security forces "are in absolute control of the situation," but admitted later Thursday that the central government had lost control of Bor, the capital of the country’s largest and most populous state, where barrages of gunfire were reported.

Undaunted by purge, Rodman in NKorea to prep for game with ex-NBA players on leader’s birthday

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) -- Former NBA star Dennis Rodman arrived in North Korea on Thursday to meet leader Kim Jong Un and put the finishing touches on plans to bring 12 ex-NBA players to Pyongyang for a Jan. 8 exhibition game marking the leader’s birthday. Rodman said the game is on track despite the recent execution of Kim’s uncle in a dramatic political purge.

Rodman’s visit comes less than a week after North Korea announced the execution of Jang Song Thaek, an unprecedented fall from grace for one of the most powerful figures in the country. Jang’s execution sparked speculation by foreign analysts over the future of the Kim regime.

But officials in Pyongyang say Jang’s removal has not caused any instability. Rodman’s visit -- should it proceed uneventfully -- could be a sign that Kim is firmly in charge.

Rodman told The Associated Press in a brief interview at his Pyongyang hotel that he was undaunted by the recent political events.

"I can’t control what they do with their government, I can’t control what they say or how they do things here," he said. "I’m just trying to come here as a sports figure and try to hope I can open the door for a lot of people in the country."