AP Top News at 3:39 p.m. EDT

Associated Press
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, left, accompanied by Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, March 31, 2011, before the House Armed Services Committee hearing on military operations in Libya. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
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Opponents of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi were knocked back by government troops for a third straight day Thursday but took heart in a sign that the embattled regime is cracking at the highest levels: the defection of the second top official in roughly 48 hours. Ali Abdessalam Treki, a former foreign minister and U.N. General Assembly president, had been named to represent Libya at the United Nations after a wave of defections early in the uprising. But Treki, who is currently in Cairo, said in a statement posted on several opposition websites that he was not going to accept that job or any other.

WASHINGTON (AP) — As the U.S. debates its future participation in the Libyan conflict, defense officials slammed the brakes Thursday on any major American role aiding opposition groups and insisted that the Obama administration should not be the one to arm the rebels. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that if the rebels are to get arms, money and training, countries other than the U.S. should provide that assistance. The military leaders told Congress the rebels remain a largely unknown quantity, but are a better alternative than Col. Moammar Gadhafi.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Thousands of people in Missouri who have been unemployed for more than a year soon will lose their jobless benefits, marking a significant victory for Republican fiscal hawks who are crusading against government spending. When eligibility ends Saturday, Missouri will become the only state to voluntarily quit a federal stimulus program that offers extended benefits. Michigan, Arkansas and Florida also recently took steps to cut back on money going to the unemployed, although they targeted state benefits instead.

TOKYO, Japan (AP) — Japan is increasingly turning to other countries for help as it struggles to stabilize its tsunami-stricken nuclear plant and stop radiation leaks that are complicating efforts to recover the bodies of some of the thousands swept away by the towering wave. French, American and international experts — even a robot — are either in Japan or on their way, and French President Nicholas Sarkozy visited Tokyo on Thursday to meet with the prime minister and show solidarity.

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker John Boehner signaled Thursday that a compromise is coming with Democrats on immediate cuts in government spending, noting that Democrats control the White House and the other half of Congress. Boehner said Republicans are fighting for the biggest spending cuts they can get. Boehner said there's no agreement yet on how much he and Democrats are willing to compromise in cutting the day-to-day budgets of federal agencies over the coming six months. The GOP House has voted to cut more than $60 billion from this year's budget, and Democrats have been moving steadily in his direction.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A Wisconsin judge on Thursday did what thousands of pro-union protesters and boycotting Democratic lawmakers couldn't, halting Republican Gov. Scott Walker's plans — at least temporarily — to cut most public workers' pay and strip them of most of their union rights. Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi issued a declaration stating in no uncertain terms that the collective bargaining law that led to weeks of large protests at the state Capitol had not taken effect, contradicting Republican arguments that it had because a state office published it online. Hours later, Walker said his administration would comply, despite misgivings about the order.

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Calling the crimes inexcusable and barbaric, a judge sentenced two former New Orleans police officers to prison Thursday for their roles in the shooting death of an unarmed man whose body was later set on fire in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The 25-plus years David Warren received for shooting 31-year-old Henry Glover to death was the stiffest punishment so far in the Justice Department's investigations of post-Katrina police misconduct. Ex-officer Gregory McRae was sentenced to more than 17 years in prison for burning Glover's body after he was gunned down.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Windy, rainy weather furiously swept through central Florida Thursday, knocking out power to tens of thousands of people, flooding roads and toppling trucks and small planes. In Lakeland, where several hundred people had gathered for the annual Sun 'n Fun aviation festival, a tent collapsed and injured seven people, authorities said. Authorities said all of the injuries were minor and six were taken to a local hospital.

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The unstoppable Betty White is taking on reality TV with a hidden-camera show that turns senior citizens into merry pranksters. NBC has ordered 12 episodes of "Betty White's Off Their Rockers," the working title for a series based on a hit Belgian program that has been produced in other European countries and South Korea. "People have been telling me that I'm 'off my rocker' for years — now I can prove it," White joked in a statement Thursday.

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Barry Bonds' former personal shopper testified that she witnessed the slugger's private trainer inject Bonds in the belly button before a road trip during the 2002 season. Kathy Hoskins said Thursday she was in Bonds' bedroom packing his clothes for the road trip when the seven-time NL MVP and trainer Greg Anderson came into the room. Anderson expressed concerns about her presence and Bonds said not to worry about Hoskins because "she's my girl."

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