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Oil Rig Explosion Kills 4 in Gulf of Mexico

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- An explosion and ensuing fire on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico today left four dead and injured 45 others, according to the Pemex oil company.

Pemex, a Mexican state-run oil company, said 300 workers were evacuated after the fire broke out on their Abkatun Permanente plaform.

Pemex said in a statement Wednesday night that no spill occurred. "The fire that broke today at the Abkatun processing platform in Campeche did not cause an oil spill in the sea. Authorities only registered a runoff, which is being contained by specialised vessels," Pemex said.

Among those killed was a contractor for the Mexican oil services company, Cotemar, according to Pemex.

Currently, there are eight fireboats fighting the blaze, according to Pemex.

It is unclear how much fuel might have leaked into the Gulf of Mexico as a result of the incident.

Pemex has dealt with multiple deadly accidents in recent years, including a 2013 blast at the company headquarters that killed 37 people. In 2012, a fire at a natural gas facility killed 26.


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UN Says Nearly 1,000 Iraqis Killed by Acts of Terrorism and Violence in March

Marcio Silva/iStock/Thinkstock(BAGHDAD) -- The United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq released the latest casualty figures for March on Wednesday, showing nearly 1,000 Iraqis were killed in acts of terrorism and violence last month.

The report says that 997 Iraqis were killed and 2,172 were injured in March -- including 729 civilian deaths and 1,785 civilian injuries. In addition, 268 members of the Iraqi Security Forces, including the Peshmerga, SWAT and militias fighting alongside the Iraqi Army were killed in March and 387 more were injured.

Those figures do not include casualties in the Anbar province.

Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Iraq Jan Kubis said that he was "shocked to see that Iraqis continue to bear the brunt of appalling numbers of casualties caused by successive waves of violence, which are threatening with additional suffering and misery."

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Galaxy Discovery Sheds New Light on How Structures Formed

ESA(NEW YORK) -- New clues have been discovered in the distant universe that shed light on how galaxies formed.

The universe is believed to be 13.8 billion years old and is home to an estimated 100 billion galaxies comprised of stars, gas and dust. However, researchers are unsure how those giant clusters came to be.

In order to capture light from the early universe, the European Space Agency's Planck telescope used cosmic microwave background signals to create a map of the radiation left by the Big Bang.

The Herschel telescope was then used to zoom in on some of the clusters that were captured by the Planck telescope, allowing researchers to examine what are believed to be precursors to galaxies.

A recently released photo shows black dots, which are believed to be newly discovered clusters, in the Earth's home galaxy, the Milky Way.

"Finding so many intensely star-forming, dust galaxies in such concentrated groups was a huge surprise," said Hervé Dole, the lead author of the study that will be published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics on Tuesday, according to NASA. "We think this is a missing piece of cosmological structure formation."

While stars and galaxies were abundant in the early universe, they would collapse under the weight of gravity and trigger the creation of new stars and galaxies, according to NASA.

The findings show that the galaxies from the early universe have been able to create stars from gas and dust at a rate of as many as 1,500 solar masses per year. The Milky Way today averages about one solar mass per year, according to the European Space Agency, meaning that about one star with the weight of our sun is created from dust and gas every year.

Astrophysicists haven't yet determined the age of the distant clusters. However, they believe they are likely the closest evidence that has been found to the enormous galaxies seen today closer to our own.

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April Fool's Day 'Bluff' Lands New Zealand Woman a New BMW

ABC News(AUCKLAND, New Zealand) -- A woman in New Zealand has reportedly won a brand new BMW after being the first to respond to an April Fool’s Day ad placed in a local newspaper.

The woman, identified as Tianna Marsh, arrived at the Team McMillian BMW car dealership in Newmarket at 5:30 a.m. after seeing an ad for the dealership’s “April Fool’s Day Special” on the front page of the New Zealand Herald newspaper.

The newspaper reports Marsh drove her own 15-year-old car to the dealership, where she was met by the sales manager, Gavin Penfold.

“When I met her outside, I just acted dumb," Penfold told the Herald. "She said, 'I'm here for the Herald competition,’ [and] I said, 'I know nothing about it.’”

Marsh then followed the ad’s instructions to “ask for Tom” and was rewarded with a brand new BMW 1 Series.

“It couldn’t have gone to a more deserving winner,” said Penfold, who could not be reached by ABC News.

A spokesman for BMW says the ad was designed to attract someone who was willing to take a chance.

Dealership officials told the Herald they hired security guards in case a large crowd showed up, but it turned out Marsh was the first and one of the only few.

"The ad was intentionally vague and definitely appeared too good to be true, but in this case we wanted to turn the tables and reward the first person who was willing to take the chance,” BMW spokesman Ed Finn told the Herald.

Marsh’s new car appropriately came with a license plate that reads, “NOF00L.”

Her old car will be sold by the dealership with proceeds going a charity that provides, “modified, ride-on cars to young disabled children,” the Herald reports.

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Identical Triplet Sisters Get Married Together in Joint Wedding in Brazil

iStock/Thinkstock(PASSO FUNDO, Brazil) -- Identical triplet sisters gave guests triple vision when they walked down the aisle and said "I do" together at their joint wedding in Passo Fundo, Riuo Grande do Sul, Brazil.

Tagiane Bini, Rocheli Bini and Rafaela Bini, all 29, wore nearly identical dresses and had the same hairstyle and makeup when they tied the knot. The only difference among them were the colors of their bouquets.

The ceremony, which took place in Catedral Nossa Senhora Aparecida on March 21, was "special and one of a kind," wedding photographer Diovane Moraes told ABC News Wednesday. There were over 600 guests, he added.

Tagiane's husband is Eduardo, Rocheli's husband is Gabriel and Rafaela's husband is Rafael, Moraes said, adding that he did not know their last names.

The men have hilariously mixed up their brides in the past, Moraes said, explaining Eduardo once mistook Rocheli for Tagiane and accidentally hugged Rocheli from behind.

But the grooms had no problem differentiating the loves of their lives on the big day, Moraes said. Eduardo said he could instantly tell who Tagiane was because "she was the most beautiful one," according to Moraes.

Tagiane Bini referred a request for comment to Moraes, who was better able to communicate in English.

Wedding planning blogger and guest Adriadne Durante blogged about the event, saying the three sisters chose traditional decorations and have always had nearly identical tastes in clothing and hairstyle.

The family has a tradition of marrying relatives on the same day, she added.

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Avalanche in French Alps Kills at Least Three Skiers, Officials Say

iStock/Thinkstock(PARIS) -- At least three skiers have died due to an avalanche in the French Alps Wednesday afternoon, according to local government officials.

Christian Flagella, the commander of the gendarmerie police force in the Haute Alpes region, said at a news conference Wednesday that the three individuals were part of a larger group of 11 skiers.

Four members of the group were swept away by the avalanche, and three are now dead. A fourth remains in critical condition.

The names and nationalities of the individuals have not been released.

The specific area of the avalanche has not been confirmed, but an employee at a nearby chalet told ABC News that the area is known for off-piste skiing, meaning that there are no official slopes, but adventurous skiers have to hike up the mountain in order to ski down. The area has also received heavy snow for the past two days.

This would be the second tragedy in the mountain range in just eight days after a Germanwings flight crashed killing all 150 on board.

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Key Issues Unresolved as Iran Nuclear Talks Continue Past Deadline

FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty ImagesUPDATE: Talks with Iran on a nuclear deal will continue for yet another day, the State Department announced Wednesday.

Acting State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said negotiators "continue to make progress but have not reached a political understanding. Therefore, Secretary [of State John] Kerry will remain in Lausanne until at least Thursday morning to continue the negotiations.”"

(LAUSANNE, Switzerland) — Foreign negotiators, working beyond a Tuesday deadline, are optimistic that an agreement can be drafted on a nuclear accord with Iran -- with a focus on narrowing down differences between the parties.

A joint statement of progress is expected later Wednesday.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, speaking to reporters, said “a broad framework of understanding” exists, but that some issues still need to be worked out. Germany’s foreign office shared similar sentiments, writing in a statement, “Progress is visible. Nothing is agreed but if there is good will on all sides an agreement is possible."

A deadline for the agreement had been set for March 31. While the deadline has passed, Iran’s foreign minister, speaking Tuesday, said the negotiations have been productive.

"We've accomplished quite a bit, but people needed to get some rest and start over early in the morning," Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said. "And I hope we can finalize the work on Wednesday -- and hopefully begin the process of drafting."

The State Department had said earlier Tuesday that despite progress, obstacles still remain.

"We've made enough progress in the last days to merit staying until Wednesday," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a statement to reporters in Lausanne, Switzerland, where the talks are being held. "There are several difficult issues still remaining."

Sticking points during these talks included disagreements on how many centrifuges -- which are used to enrich nuclear fuel -- might remain online at Iran's deep-buried Fordo nuclear reactor, whether or not Iran will be allowed to continue nuclear research and development for scientific purposes, and what to do with the stockpile of enriched uranium it already owns.

Negotiators on all sides have been working towards this deadline since November 2013. That's when Iran and the so-called P5 1 (U.S., U.K., France, Russia and China, plus Germany) agreed on a Joint Plan of Action (JPA), an interim agreement that paved the way for talks by temporarily halting Iran's nuclear enrichment program and subjecting it to daily inspections in exchange for the loosening of some economic sanctions.

"If we are making progress toward the finish line, then we should keep going," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Tuesday, but he added that if talks fail, then the U.S. would be forced to "consider some other alternatives."


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World's Oldest Person Dies at 117

Buddhika Weerasinghe/Getty Images(TOKYO) -- The Japanese woman who holds the title as the world's oldest person has passed away just weeks after turning 117.

Misao Okawa died Wednesday from heart failure, according to the BBC, after celebrating her birthday on March 5.

Born to a clothing merchant in 1898, Okawa married in 1919 and has three children, four grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren.

She spent the last years of her life at a nursing home in Osaka, where she enjoyed a healthy diet of sashimi and mackerel sushi, her favorite meal.

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Germanwings Crash: Video May Show Plane's Final Moments

ABC News / Flight Aware(NEW YORK) — Two magazines have reported details of a disturbing video taken from inside the doomed Germanwings plane moments before it crashed into the French Alps, but investigators have denied its existence.

While ABC News has not independently confirmed the existence of the video, the editor of Parisian news magazine Paris Match has told ABC News that he is absolutely positive that it is not fake.

Paris Match co-editor-in-chief Regis Lessommier said that the 15 seconds of footage is one of the most disturbing videos he has ever seen.

The footage has been described as being shot from the back of the plane, and a metallic banging can be heard, which may have been the captain trying to break into the cockpit after allegedly being locked out by co-pilot Andreas Lubitz.

"The scene was so chaotic that it was hard to identify people, but the sounds of the screaming passengers made it perfectly clear that they were aware of what was about to happen to them," Paris Match reported, regarding the video.

Lessommier said that he watched the video in Marseille, not far from the crash site, and that it was shown to him by someone involved in the recovery operation, though he did not say it was a police official.

The German magazine Bild also has reported on the video.

However, Xavier Vialenc of the French gendarmerie police force told ABC News that "to the extent of my knowledge, no such video exists."

Marseille's public prosecutor, Bruce Robin, told Agence France Presse that no such video is part of the investigation, but if someone does have footage from inside the plane, they "must turn it over."

The Germanwings plane that departed from Barcelona crashed en route to Dusseldorf on March 24, with all 150 people on board believed killed on impact.

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Cuba, US Hold First Talks on Human Rights

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The first meeting between Cuba and the United States on human rights held Tuesday in Washington, D.C. proved that even with resounding differences between the two countries on the topic, they continue to move forward toward normal relations.

Pedro Luis Pedroso, Cuba’s Foreign Ministry deputy director for multilateral affairs, said Tuesday evening that despite “deep differences between both governments” regarding human rights, there is a chance for civilized relations based on “respect of those differences.”

The issue of human rights has held back normal relations and is a constant issue for moving forward among Republicans who express concern that removing the embargo will lead to rewarding Cuba while not changing its behavior -- a point the Obama administration disagrees with.
 
Though Cuba has its own issues with human rights in the United States, Pedroso said during the talks at the State Department, “Cuba expressed concerns related to the guarantee and protection of human rights in the United States.” They cited examples including “discrimination and racism and the intensification of police brutality.” The Cubans also drew attention to the “legal limbo of prisoners in Guantanamo.”
 
Pedroso called the talks “professional and respectful,” and said the talks did not include whether American diplomatic teams have the right to meet with whomever they like in Cuba or whether human rights monitoring groups would be allowed in Cuba. That would be a part of the official State Department talks between Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson and Josefina Vidal, the Cuban Foreign Ministry’s chief of U.S. affairs.
 
Pedroso and his team plan to continue talks and be in contact with U.S. diplomatic teams going forward.

In a press release, the U.S. State Department acknowledged both sides raising concerns about human rights issues, and said “the atmosphere of the meeting was professional, and there was broad agreement on the way forward for a future substantive dialogue, the timing and location of which will be determined through diplomatic channels.”

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Netanyahu Slams Iran Nuclear Talks, Calls for 'Better Deal'

Uriel Sinai/Getty images(WASHINGTON) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stepped up his opposition to the ongoing nuclear talks between Iran, the United States and its European allies, saying it was "time for the international community to insist on a better deal."

"A better deal would significantly roll back Iran's nuclear infrastructure," Netanyahu said in a statement on Wednesday. "A better deal would link the eventual lifting of the restrictions on Iran's nuclear program to a change in Iran's behavior."

The prime minister, who is scheduled to meet the U.S. House Speaker John Boehner later Wednesday, said, "Israel's destruction is non-negotiable," and, "given Iran's murderous regime, a clear path to the bomb is negotiable."

Netanyahu has been a fierce critic of the international talks taking place for the past 18 months, as he believes potential concessions offered to Iran "would endanger Israel, the Middle East and the peace of the world."

On Tuesday the Israeli leader publicly slammed "Iran's obdurate refusal to reveal to the IAEA its activities to develop nuclear weapons and, I add, Iran's campaign of conquest and terrorism -- which is open to all, everyone sees it, before our very eyes -- from the Golan Heights to Yemen, from Iraq to Gaza and so many other places."

Foreign negotiators, working beyond a March 31 deadline in Lausanne, Switzerland, say they are optimistic that an agreement can be drafted. British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said “a broad framework of understanding” exists, but that some issues still need to be worked out.

Iran’s foreign minister, speaking Tuesday, said the negotiations have been productive.

"We've accomplished quite a bit, but people needed to get some rest and start over early in the morning," Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said. "And I hope we can finalize the work on Wednesday -- and hopefully begin the process of drafting."

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Nigeria Elects New President Amid Boko Haram Threat

iStock/Thinkstock(ABUJA, Nigeria) — It's goodbye to Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who lost his job to former Army general Muhammadu Buhari in a hotly contested national election that could determine the fate of the west African nation.

The changing of the guard representing the first civilian transfer of power is a shift in direction for Nigeria, which has been bedeviled by Islamic extremist Boko Haram militants running amok in the northeast for the past five years.

In addition to blaming Jonathan for failing to deal with the threat from Boko Haram, voters have also accused the outgoing president of corruption with oil-rich Nigeria falling on hard times.

Buhari briefly served as Nigeria's president after a military coup in the early 1980s.

Along with trying to restore faith in Nigeria's government, he'll have to deal with Boko Haram, which killed upwards of 10,000 people last year. Its campaign of terrorism also involves kidnapping that including the 2014 abduction of more 200 schoolgirls who are believed to have been sold into slavery or married off to the group's leaders.

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Iranian Foreign Minister Says Nuclear Talks 'Accomplished Quite a Bit'

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images(LAUSANNE, Switzerland) -- The foreign minister of Iran said Tuesday night negotiators "accomplished quite a bit" and he hopes that the process of drafting an agreement can begin Wednesday.

"We've accomplished quite a bit, but people needed to get some rest and start over early in the morning," Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said. "And I hope we can finalize the work on Wednesday -- and hopefully begin the process of drafting tomorrow."

Zarif has previously stumped for compromise between Iran and the P5 1 nations.

 

In negotiations, both sides must show flexibility.We have, and are ready to make a good deal for all.We await our counterparts' readiness.

— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) March 28, 2015

 

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Iraqi PM Celebrates 'Liberation' of Tikrit from ISIS Control

State Dept photo(TIKRIT, Iraq) -- Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi announced on his Twitter account Tuesday that Iraqi Security Forces had retaken the city of Tikrit from ISIS forces.

In his tweet, Abadi called the city's "liberation" a "historic milestone." He also congratulated Iraqi forces and volunteers for their work to retake Tikrit.

 

PM Al-Abadi announces the liberation of Tikrit and congratulates Iraqi security forces and popular volunteers on the historic milestone

— Haider Al-Abadi (@HaiderAlAbadi) March 31, 2015



Just last week, the U.S.-led coalition had agreed to conduct airstrikes and offer additional support near the city.

The U.S. Department of Defense did not confirm the city's liberation in its statement, saying only that it could "confirm [Iraqi Security Forces'] advancement into Tikrit to liberate the city center as well as other parts of the city from [ISIS]."

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WHO, Iraq Ministry of Health Deny Report of Ebola in Iraq

Marcio Silva/iStock/Thinkstock(BAGHDAD) -- The World Health Organization and the Iraqi Ministry of Health on Monday denied reports of an Ebola case in Iraq.

"The World Health Organization and the Ministry of Health of Iraq did not verify the information appeared in BASNews on 28 March alluding to the appearance of an Ebola case in Abu Gharib," a WHO press release read. After investigating, the WHO and the MOH Iraq "denied the presence of Ebola in Iraq."

The release further denies the report from BASNews, saying that no laboratory in Iraq has the technical capacity to confirm Ebola, the release reads.

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