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AP Top News at 1:29 p.m. EST

Death toll in warehouse fire rises to 24, with more expected
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) - Officials say the death toll has risen to 24 in a fire that ripped through a late-night dance party in a converted warehouse in Oakland, California, and they expect that number to climb as the search continues. Alameda County Sheriff's Sgt. Ray Kelly announced the new figure early Sunday. Only about 20 percent of the charred remains of the building have been searched. Oakland Battalion Fire Chief Melinda Drayton says fire crews worked through the night to clear debris from the gutted building. The search for bodies is expected to continue at least 48 hours. The building known as the "Ghost Ship" was an artist workspace and illegal home for a rotating cast of a dozen or more residents, those who lived there or visited often said.

Was Trump's Taiwan contact a policy shift or a misstep?
BEIJING (AP) - Was President-elect Donald Trump signaling a shift in U.S.-China relations when he referred to Taiwan's leader as "president" following a phone call this past week or was it an unintentional misstep? His phone conversation with Tsai Ing-wen was a breach of long-standing tradition that risks enmity from China, but a longtime China watcher says he can't yet be sure of the meaning. Douglas Paal, a former director of the American Institute in Taiwan, which unofficially represents U.S. interests in Taipei, said it was too soon to judge whether Trump was going to lead that shift, or if the incident was just a "complicated accident." "Beijing will watch closely to see which it is," said Paal, now vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Gun-rights backers vow to 'go on offense' during Trump years
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) - Firearms enthusiasts who embraced Donald Trump's campaign and his full-throated support of the Second Amendment are expecting a sweeping expansion of gun rights under his administration and a Congress firmly in Republican hands. Among their priorities: eliminating gun-free zones at schools, reducing requirements for background checks and ensuring that concealed carry handgun permits from one state are recognized everywhere in the U.S. "This is our historic moment to go on offense and to defeat the forces that have aligned against our freedom once and for all," Wayne LaPierre, chief executive of the National Rifle Association, said in a video after the Nov.

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Fidel Castro's ashes interred in private ceremony in Cuba
SANTIAGO, Cuba (AP) - Fidel Castro's ashes were interred in a private ceremony Sunday morning, ending nine days of mourning for the man who ruled Cuba for nearly half a century. The military caravan bearing his remains in a flag-draped cedar coffin left the Plaza of the Revolution in the eastern city of Santiago at 6:39 a.m. Thousands of people lined the two-mile route to Santa Ifigenia cemetery, waving Cuban flags and shouting "Long live Fidel!" Photographs taken by Cuban state media showed that the interment was presided over by Castro's younger brother and successor, President Raul Castro, who wore his green military uniform as he placed the older man's ashes into what appeared to be a niche in his tomb, a simple, grey, round stone about 15 feet high.

Veterans begin to assemble near Dakota Access protest camp
CANNON BALL, N.D. (AP) - Military veterans started to gather Sunday near the main Dakota Access pipeline protest camp, where they'll join the several hundred people who are against the four-state, $3.8 billion project that's largely complete. Already, a few hundred of the group Veterans Stand for Standing Rock have arrived at the Oceti Sakowin, or Seven Council Fires, camp and the group's GoFundMe.com page had raised more than $1 million of its $1.2 million goal by Sunday - money due to go toward food, transportation and supplies. Navy veteran and Harvard graduate student Art Grayson came to the camp because he "couldn't stand by and watch people being abused," a reference to contentious and debated clashes between protesters and law enforcement.

Mainstream relief as leftist candidate wins in Austria
VIENNA (AP) - Alexander Van der Bellen, a left-leaning politician who preached moderation and tolerance, won Austria's presidential election Sunday over right-wing populist Norbert Hofer, according to preliminary results that showed Van der Bellen convincingly ahead. His accomplishment was greeted with congratulations by mainstream politicians in neighboring Germany. They and others in Europe had feared that Donald Trump's win in the United States and the Brexit vote in Britain heralded a resurgence of populist sentiment across the continent. Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, who heads Germany's center-left Social Democrats, told the Bild newspaper: "A load has been taken off the mind of all of Europe." He called the result "a clear victory for good sense against right-wing populism." Partial results tallied shortly the polls closed Sunday showed Van der Bellen with 53.3 percent of the vote and Hofer at 46.7 percent.

Italians vote on reforms; PM Renzi vows to quit if he loses
MILAN (AP) - Italians voted Sunday in a referendum on constitutional reforms that was being closely watched to see if Italy becomes the next country to reject the political status quo. Premier Matteo Renzi has said he will resign if the reforms are rejected, and opposition politicians have vowed to press for a new government if voters reject the proposed constitutional changes. The premier made no comment as he voted Sunday in Pontassieve, a Tuscan town east of Florence, along with his wife, Agnese Landini. He was to return to Rome to watch the outcome of the vote. The risk of political instability in Italy, Europe's fourth-largest economy, triggered market reaction before the vote, with bank stocks sinking and borrowing costs on sovereign debt rising.

No more room for the dead as Syria's Aleppo is crushed
BEIRUT (AP) - The old Aleppo cemetery filled up a year ago. The new one filled up last week. Now the dead are left in the besieged enclave's streets, buried in backyards and overwhelming the morgues. Medical officials secured yet another plot for the dead. But they say they have no way to dig graves with government troops now crashing into opposition-held eastern Aleppo, shelling civilians as they flee and forcing thousands to squeeze into a chaotic, devastated and shrinking pocket of neighborhoods. "We have no more room," said Mohammed Abu Jaafar, the head of the local forensic authority. His department is so overwhelmed, the staff registering the dead pleaded with him not to take any more bodies.

Experts warn of mental health woes as wildfires ravage South
ATLANTA (AP) - When U.S. Forest Ranger Jody Bandy confronted the man in the Pisgah National Forest, he said he'd been at the nearby wildfire and "couldn't take it anymore." Then he ran from the officer, tumbling head-over-head down the mountainside, into the river below and slamming into boulders in the water, Bandy said in a court affidavit. After an ambulance took the bleeding man to a hospital, Bandy peered through the front windshield of his pickup and saw what appeared to be a suicide note on the dash, the affidavit says. The Nov. 19 encounter in western North Carolina underscores the toll these wildfires can take on people who live through them.

Skiing Santas tackle the slopes in annual Maine charity
NEWRY, Maine (AP) - Whether he's called Santa Claus, Father Christmas or Pere Noel, he had a slew of jolly, red-suited lookalikes hit the ski slopes on Sunday in Maine. About 180 Saint Nick wannabes participated in the fundraising event hosted by Sunday River that was not for the faint of heart: The group tackled more challenging terrain than the traditional bunny slope during the 18th annual Santa Sunday. Predictably, a few tumbled, but no Santas were harmed. "This is the right way to start the holiday season," said Yelena Walsh of Boston, who's participated for the past four years. "It's so much fun." Walsh, a former professional skier from Russia, said her technique to avoid calamity in the in the crowd of red suits, skis and poles is to race ahead of the pack.

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