SANTA MARIA, Brazil (AP) — The bodies of the young college students were found piled up just inside the entrance of the Kiss nightclub, among more than 230 people who died in a cloud of toxic smoke after a blaze enveloped the crowded locale within seconds and set off a panic.
Hours later, the horrific chaos had transformed into a scene of tragic order, with row upon row of polished caskets of the dead lined up in the community gymnasium in the university city of Santa Maria. Many of the victims were under 20 years old, including some minors.
As the city in southern Brazil prepared to bury the 233 people killed in the conflagration caused by a band's pyrotechnic display, an early investigation into the tragedy revealed that security guards briefly prevented partygoers from leaving through the sole exit. And the bodies later heaped inside that doorway slowed firefighters trying to get in.
"It was terrible inside — it was like one of those films of the Holocaust, bodies piled atop one another," said police inspector Sandro Meinerz. "We had to use trucks to remove them. It took about six hours to take the bodies away."
Survivors and another police inspector, Marcelo Arigony, said security guards briefly tried to block people from exiting the club. Brazilian bars routinely make patrons pay their entire tab at the end of the night before they are allowed to leave.
Bipartisan group of key Senators set to announce their plan to overhaul US immigration laws
WASHINGTON (AP) — A bipartisan group of leading senators has reached agreement on the principles of sweeping legislation to rewrite the nation's immigration laws.
The deal, which was to be announced at a news conference Monday afternoon, covers border security, guest workers and employer verification, as well as a path to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants already in this country.
Although thorny details remain to be negotiated and success is far from certain, the development heralds the start of what could be the most significant effort in years toward overhauling the nation's inefficient patchwork of immigration laws.
President Barack Obama also is committed to enacting comprehensive immigration legislation and will travel to Nevada on Tuesday to lay out his vision, which is expected to overlap in important ways with the Senate effort.
The eight senators expected to endorse the new principles Monday are Democrats Charles Schumer of New York, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado; and Republicans John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Marco Rubio of Florida and Jeff Flake of Arizona.
Palestinians flee Syrian war, wary of getting tied up yet again in another country's conflict
EIN EL-HILWEH, Lebanon (AP) — When Syrian warplanes bombed a Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus last December, Umm Sami rounded up her three sons, shut the windows and locked the doors so they could neither hear nor heed the call to arms by rebels and pro-government gunmen fighting in the streets.
Then she told her sons they were leaving their home in the Yarmouk refugee camp in the Syrian capital for neighboring Lebanon, where they would wait out Syria's civil war.
"There will be no more martyrs for Palestine in my family," the 45-year-old widow said. "This war is a Syrian problem."
Now safe in Lebanon, Umm Sami and her family have joined thousands of other Palestinian refugees who have found shelter in the country since the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad erupted nearly two years ago. The conflict has left more than 2 million people internally displaced, and pushed 650,000 more to seek refuge abroad.
Umm Sami's resolve to keep her sons out of the fight in Syria ties into a deep-rooted sentiment among a generation of Palestinian refugees who say they are fed up with being dragged into the region's conflicts on a promise of getting their own state.
Clashes in Cairo a day after Egypt's president imposes state of emergency to curb unrest
CAIRO (AP) — Police are firing tear gas at rock-throwing protesters in Cairo a day after Egypt's president declared a state of emergency in three provinces hit hardest by political violence.
The clashes Monday near Tahrir Square mark the fifth consecutive day of street violence in Egypt.
Late Sunday, thousands of protesters demonstrated in Port Said, Ismailiya and Suez to reject President Mohammed Morsi's declaration of a 30-day state of emergency in the three Suez Canal cities and their surrounding provinces.
Those provinces have been the hardest hit by a weekend wave of unrest that has left more than 50 dead.
Morsi declared the state of emergency in a televised address late Sunday and warned that he would not hesitate to take more action to stem Egypt's latest eruption of violence.
French forces claim control of access to fabled Malian city of Timbuktu after operation
SEVARE, Mali (AP) — Ground forces backed by French paratroopers and helicopters took control of the airport and roads leading to the fabled desert town of Timbuktu in an overnight operation, a French military official said Monday.
The move marked the latest inroad by the two-week-old French mission to oust radical Islamists from the northern half of Mali, which they seized more than nine months ago.
Col. Thierry Burkhard said Monday that the town's airport was taken without firing a shot.
"There was an operation on Timbuktu last night that allowed us to control access to the town," he said Monday. "It's up to Malian forces to retake the town."
The Timbuktu operation comes a day after the French announced they had seized the airport and a key bridge in a city east of Timbuktu, Gao, one of the other northern provincial capitals that had been under the grip of radical Islamists.
'Argo' is on a roll with big win at Screen Actors Guild Awards
LOS ANGELES (AP) — A few weeks ago, the Oscar race looked wide open. The stately, historical "Lincoln" seemed like the safe and likely choice, with the provocative "Zero Dark Thirty" and the quirky and inspiring "Silver Linings Playbook" very much in the mix for the Academy Award for best picture.
But now, an "Argo" juggernaut — an "Argo"-naut, if you will — seems to be rolling along and gathering momentum as we head toward Hollywood's top prize.
The international thriller from director Ben Affleck, who also stars as a CIA operative orchestrating a daring rescue during the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, received the top honor of best ensemble cast in a movie at Sunday night's Screen Actors Guild Awards, their equivalent of the best-picture Oscar. It's a decent indicator of eventual Academy Awards success, with the two matching up about half the time.
The film, which also stars John Goodman and Alan Arkin as Hollywood veterans who help stage a fake movie as a cover, has received nearly unanimous critical raves and has proven to be a box-office favorite, as well, grossing nearly $190 million worldwide.
But "Argo" also won the Producers Guild of America Award on Saturday night, which is an excellent Oscar predictor, and it earned best picture and director statues from the Golden Globes two weeks earlier. The Directors Guild of America Awards next Saturday will help crystallize the situation even further.
Washington casts wary eye at Muslim Brotherhood; foreign aid threatened
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama begins his second term straining to maintain a good relationship with Egypt, an important U.S. ally whose president is a conservative Islamist walking a fine line between acting as a moderate peace broker and keeping his Muslim Brotherhood party happy with anti-American rhetoric.
The White House last summer had hoped to smooth over some of the traditional tensions between Washington and the Brotherhood, a party rooted in opposition to Israel and the U.S., when Egypt overthrew dictator Hosni Mubarak and picked Mohammed Morsi as its first democratically elected leader.
But a spate of recent steps — from Brotherhood-led attacks on protesters, to vague protestations of women's freedoms in the nation's new constitution, to revelations of old comments by Morsi referring to Jews as "bloodsuckers" and "pigs" — have raised alarm among senior U.S. officials and threatens $1 billion in American aid to Egypt.
Though the Brotherhood was founded in Egypt, its influence and affiliates have spread across the Mideast and into North Africa — where two recent terrorist attacks and a French assault on Islamist militants in Mali have presented Obama with a new front in the battle against extremism for his second term.
The White House has little interest in picking a fight with the Muslim Brotherhood, which has grown in size and stature across the region since the Arab Spring revolts. The Brotherhood and similar Islamist movements are regarded warily by monarchies in Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Morocco. Its members are part of the opposition coalition seeking to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad. It has small followings in Qatar, Algeria, and a like-minded — although not officially affiliated — ally in Tunisia.
Investigation into Boeing 787 battery problems moves to maker of monitoring system
TOKYO (AP) — The joint U.S. and Japanese investigation into the Boeing 787's battery problems has shifted from the battery-maker to the manufacturer of a monitoring system.
Japan transport ministry official Shigeru Takano said Monday the probe into battery-maker GS Yuasa was over for now as no evidence was found it was the source of the problems.
Ministry officials said they will inspect Kanto Aircraft Instrument Co. on Monday as part of the ongoing investigation. It makes a system that monitors voltage, charging and temperature of the lithium-ion batteries.
All 50 of the Boeing 787s in use around the world are grounded after one of the jets operated by All Nippon Airways made an emergency landing in Japan earlier this month when its main battery overheated. Earlier in January, a battery in a Japan Airlines 787 caught fire while parked at Boston's Logan International Airport.
GS Yuasa shares jumped on the news it is no longer being investigated, gaining nearly 5 percent in Tokyo trading. The issue had plunged 12 percent after the battery problems surfaced in Japan.
New bangs, Twitter feed, now what else will Michelle Obama do with 4 more years as first lady?
WASHINGTON (AP) — Michelle Obama has a new look, both in person and online, and with the president's re-election, she has four more years as first lady, too.
That's got many people wondering: What will she do with them?
Take on a new cause? Travel more? Trace the path of another first lady and keep the Obama political brand alive by running for office?
The answers are to be determined.
The first lady is trying to figure out what comes next for this self-described "mom in chief" who also is a champion of healthier eating, an advocate for military families, a fitness buff and the best-selling author of a book about her White House garden.
Toyota back at No. 1 selling nearly 9.75 million vehicles in 2012, dethroning GM officially
TOKYO (AP) — Now it's official: Toyota is once again the world's top automaker.
Toyota Motor Corp. released its tally for global vehicle sales for last year Monday at a record 9.748 million vehicles — a bigger number than the estimate it gave last month of about 9.7 million vehicles.
It was already clear Toyota had dethroned General Motors Co. as the Detroit-based automaker fell short, selling 9.29 million vehicles.
GM had been the top-selling automaker for more than seven decades before losing the title to Toyota in 2008.
GM retook the sales crown in 2011, when Toyota's production was hurt by the quake and tsunami in northeastern Japan.