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'Small steps' toward diplomacy...Jobless claims fall...Toy thieves fake heart attack

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VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis says the U.S. and Cuba have taken "small steps" toward diplomacy and peacemaking. The pope today spoke about yesterday's surprise announcement that the U.S. and Cuba would restore relations. Francis played a crucial role in making the accord happen. He even offered the Vatican as a facilitator in negotiations between President Barack Obama and Cuba's Raul Castro.

REDONDO BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Police say three people were killed when a driver struck a group of pedestrians outside a Southern California church last night as a Christmas service ended. The dead include two women in their 80s. Police in Redondo Beach say the crash along the Pacific Coast Highway left as many as nine people injured. The driver has been arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Weekly applications for unemployment benefits have fallen again. The Labor Department says applications dropped by 6,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 289,000. That's the lowest level since late October. The less volatile four-week average declined by 750 to 298,750.

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Testimony is scheduled to continue today in a federal court in Oklahoma City in the case of 21 death row inmates who are challenging the state's method of execution. Their attorneys argue that Oklahoma's bungled execution in April is evidence they likely will experience pain and suffering from the state's lethal injection protocol. Much of the case centers on the use of the sedative midazolam (mih-DAY'-zoh-lam) as the first in a three-drug combination.

LAKE WALES, Fla. (AP) — Authorities in Florida say a man faked a heart attack inside a Wal-Mart store so his friend could steal toys. Thirty-year-old Tarus Scott and 27-year-old Genard Dupree were arrested Tuesday on grand theft charges. The sheriff's office in Polk County says the men filled a shopping cart with toys, including a Barbie Glam vacation house. Video surveillance shows Dupree on the floor near the store entrance, clutching his chest. As concerned citizens checked on him, Scott walked out of the store with the cart. Once Scott was outside, Dupree got up and walked out. Authorities tracked down the men.

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