AP Top News at 7:20 a.m. EDT

Associated Press
Concrete steps lead to remains of a tornado demolished mobile home in Preston,  Miss., Wednesday, April 27, 2011. The home and one next to it were blown about 100 feet away into a cow pasture. Three related women died at the site. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
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The death toll from severe storms that punished five Southern U.S. states has jumped to 178 after Alabama sharply raised its tally of lives lost. Alabama's state emergency management agency said early Thursday it had confirmed 128 deaths, up from at least 61 earlier.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Reshuffling his national security team at a crucial time, President Barack Obama is aiming for maximum continuity, installing road-tested players steeped in his policies on diplomacy and war. Obama was to announce Thursday that CIA Director Leon Panetta will replace Defense Secretary Robert Gates when Gates makes his long-planned exit this summer, a senior administration official said. Gen. David Petraeus, the high-profile commander of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, will replace Panetta at the CIA in the fall, after helping to manage the first steps of a drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Confronting doubters who harbor questions about his place of birth, President Barack Obama chose to defy one of his White House's own rules: Don't get dragged into the news skirmish of the day. This time, he decided he had to. In an extraordinary step, the White House produced a copy of his detailed Hawaii birth certificate Wednesday after obtaining a special waiver from the state to make it public.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The economy probably slowed in the first three months of this year as harsh winter weather and high oil prices hurt spending by consumers, builders and other businesses. But economists predict that was a temporary setback and growth will pick up over the rest of the year. Thursday morning the government will release a new snapshot of the economy's health that is expected to show a 1.9 percent annual growth rate in the January-March quarter.

LONDON (AP) — Practice makes perfect. Kate Middleton and her bridesmaids, together with best man Prince Harry, rehearsed once more Thursday at Westminster Abbey, practicing the timing of the upcoming royal wedding to the last detail.

TITUSVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Florida Space Coast hotels are sold out, residents are renting bedrooms and restaurants are doubling food supplies as thousands of tourists arriving for Friday's launch of space shuttle Endeavour are boosting a region fearing its economic future. The launch is the next-to-last for the program and President Barack Obama and his family will be in attendance.

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — Crumbling unity among militants could provide the Pakistan army an opening to conduct a limited offensive against a particularly vicious Taliban group in a strategic tribal region, according to analysts and a senior military official. The target of such an operation in North Waziristan would be the most violent factions within the so-called Pakistani Taliban. Their leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, is believed to be increasingly isolated after executing a prominent former Pakistani official over the objections of senior militant leaders.

SAN DIEGO (AP) — If a Marine spots two men in his battalion kissing off-duty at a shopping mall, he should react as if he were seeing a man and woman. If he turns on the television news to see a fellow Marine dressed as a civilian and marching in a parade with a banner that reads, "Support Gays and Lesbians in the Military!" he should accept it as a free right of expression. Prescriptions for those possible scenarios are being played out at Marine bases as the military prepares to allow gays to openly serve, ending a 17-year-old policy commonly known as "don't ask, don't tell." Training for the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines began early this year and is expected to finish by summer's end. The repeal goes into effect 60 days after the president, defense secretary and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify that lifting the ban won't hurt the military's ability to fight.

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The NFL has promised to give its teams guidance on what to do after another stinging rebuke from the same federal judge who lifted the lockout. Whether that includes rules for free agency, the NFL draft that begins Thursday night or simply whether players can talk with their coaches was anyone's guess.

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Kevin Durant's teammates kept telling him it was his time to take over the game. He finally did, and the Oklahoma City Thunder came roaring back to send the Denver Nuggets to another early playoff exit.

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