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Students Trapped in Sinking Ferry Send Heartbreaking Text Messages


Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images(SEOUL, South Korea) -- Heartbreaking text message exchanges between students trapped in the sinking ferry off the coast of South Korea and their anxious parents are offering a glimpse into the desperate situation in the crippled vessel.

"Dad, don't worry. I've got a life vest on and we're huddled together," one 18-year-old student, identified only by her last name, Shin, texted her father, according to MBC News, a Korean news station.

The father replied: "I know the rescue is underway but make your way out if you can."

"Dad, I can't walk out," she replied. "The corridor is full of kids, and it's too tilted."

The student was among the 287 still reported missing.

In another exchange, a male student texted his mother, who was unaware at the time that the ferry was in distress.

"Mom, I might not be able to tell you in person. I love you," the student texted, according to MBC.

"Me too, son. I love you," the mother texted back, followed with three heart symbols.

Fortunately, that student was among the 179 people who have been rescued, MBC reported.

And one family said they had received a text message saying “I am alive” from one of the missing people while still on board, Korean news agency NEWSIS reported. It was unclear if that person had been rescued.

Survivors told harrowing tales of confusion and desperation as people slid along the floor of the sharply listing ship, colliding with one another, or found themselves trapped in cabins by a wall of water.

Rescued passengers said that immediately after they heard a booming noise, the ship began to lean and they heard an announcement over the ship’s PA system telling the passengers to stay in place.

“The baggage was falling out, and we were saying ‘What’s going on?’ But the announcement told us to stay where we were, so we did,” one rescued student told MBC.

"The ship began tilting all of a sudden, and then people started skidding down from above," rescued passenger Young-Ja Shin told SBS News. "There was a railing, so I held onto it, but I then got hit by one of the falling people and we got pushed down to the bottom."

"It took about 10 seconds to tilt over, and then I began sliding from end to end," rescued passenger Eun-Bok Jang, 50, told SBS News. "I got hit on my side and then I couldn't breathe."

The vessel tipped over completely on its side, and there was mass confusion inside the ferry as refrigerators and other things fell over, Jang said.

When the water started rushing in, many passengers put on life vests and escaped outside. But by the time that announcements told passengers to make their way out, the ship had already submerged significantly, so there were few exits that could be used for escape, rescued passengers said.

Many passengers were gathered in the entertainment center, restaurants and shops on the third floor of the 5-deck ship, but when the ferry capsized, that third floor was fully submerged, authorities told the Yonhap news agency. There was most likely a power outage immediately after the ship capsized, so confused and frantic passengers probably had a hard time finding their way out in the dark and narrow passageways.

"When we were making our way out, the wall was almost all water, and it was completely submerged up to the third floor," survivor In-Hwan Kang, 58, told MBC.

So-Hyun Kim, a teacher accompanying the more than 300 students from Danwon High School in Ansan, said she initially stayed in her cabin because of the announcements, but had to attempt an escape when water came rushing in.

"I couldn't go anywhere. I didn't have the strength to climb further up," she told SBS News. "There was an open emergency exit, so another teacher and I decided to just fall and swim our way toward it. I fell and hit a railing, and that's when I was rescued."

Of the 475 passengers on board the ferry, 179 were rescued. Another 287 were listed as missing.

Rescuers were seen boarding the vessel, which had tipped to its side, and combing through the top of the ship for survivors. One man boarded the boat and quickly found what appeared to be a crew member still on it.

Bodies could be seen scattered through the water in another video shot from a helicopter. A yellow raft was tossed out of the chopper and survivors in the water swam toward it before they were pulled to safety.

Others were winched in slings to the safety of hovering helicopters.

As darkness fell, the ferry took on more water and only the rudder of the vessel remained visible before the ship sank about 100 feet below the water. Rescuers stopped searching for those still reported missing at about 7 p.m. due to strong currents and poor visibility, but they resumed their mission around 12:30 a.m. local time, taking advantage of a lull in the strong currents.

One rescued passenger said he believed that many people had been trapped inside the ferry when it sank.

The ferry, identified as the Sewol, was sailing to the southern island of Jeju when it sent a distress call as it began leaning to one side. The passengers include more than 300 students from Danwon High School in Ansan, near Seoul, who were on a school trip.


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Ferry Survivors Describe Sliding Bodies, Wall of Water


Park Young-Chul-Donga Daily via Getty Images(SEOUL, South Korea) -- Survivors of the ferry that sank off the coast of South Korea told harrowing tales of confusion and desperation as people slid along the floor of the sharply listing ship, colliding with one another, or found themselves trapped in cabins by a wall of water.

Rescued passengers said that immediately after they heard a booming noise, the ship began listing and they heard an announcement over the ship’s PA system telling the passengers to stay in place.

“The baggage was falling out, and we were saying ‘What’s going on?’ But the announcement told us to stay where we were, so we did,” one rescued student told MBC News, a Korean news agency.

"The ship began tilting all of a sudden, and then people started skidding down from above," rescued passenger Young-Ja Shin told SBS News. "There was a railing, so I held onto it, but I then got hit by one of the falling people and we got pushed down to the bottom."

"It took about 10 seconds to tilt over, and then I began sliding from end to end," rescued passenger Eun-Bok Jang, 50, told SBS News. "I got hit on my side and then I couldn't breathe."

The vessel tipped over completely on its side, and there was mass confusion inside the ferry as refrigerators and other things fell over, Jang said.

When the water started rushing in, many passengers put on life vests and escaped outside. But by the time that announcements told passengers to make their way out, the ship had already submerged significantly, so there were few exits that could be used for escape, rescued passengers said.

Many passengers were gathered in the entertainment center, restaurants and shops on the third floor of the 5-deck ship, but when the ferry capsized, that third floor was fully submerged, authorities told the Yonhap news agency. There was most likely a power outage immediately after the ship capsized, so confused and frantic passengers probably had a hard time finding their way out in the dark and narrow passage ways.

"When we were making our way out, the wall was almost all water, and it was completely submerged up to the third floor," survivor In-Hwan Kang, 58, told MBC.

So-Hyun Kim, a teacher accompanying the more than 300 students from Danwon High School in Ansan, said she initially stayed in her cabin because of the announcements, but had to attempt an escape when water came rushing in.

"I couldn't go anywhere. I didn't have the strength to climb further up," she told SBS News. "There was an open emergency exit, so another teacher and I decided to just fall and swim our way toward it. I fell and hit a railing, and that's when I was rescued."

Of the 475 passengers on board the ferry, 164 were rescued. Another 295 were listed as missing.

Rescuers were seen boarding the vessel, which had tipped to its side, and combing through the top of the ship for survivors. One man boarded the boat and quickly found what appeared to be a crew member still on it.

Bodies could be seen scattered through the water in another video shot from a helicopter. A yellow raft was tossed out of the chopper and survivors in the water swam toward it before they were pulled to safety.

Others were winched in slings to the safety of hovering helicopters.

As darkness fell, the ferry took on more water and only the rudder of the vessel remained visible before the ship sank about 100 feet below the water. Rescuers stopped searching for the 294 people who are still reported missing at about 7 p.m. due to strong currents and poor visibility, but they resumed their mission around 12:30 a.m. local time, taking advantage of a lull in the strong currents.

One rescued passenger said he believed that many people had been trapped inside the ferry when it sank.

The ferry, identified as the Sewol, was sailing to the southern island of Jeju when it sent a distress call as it began leaning to one side. The passengers include more than 300 students from Danwon High School in Ansan, near Seoul, who were on a school trip.

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School Kids Get Ride in Popemobile


Franco Origlia/Getty Images(VATICAN CITY) -- Two schoolboys in the general audience at St. Peter’s Square got the thrill of a lifetime Wednesday when Pope Francis gave them a ride in the popemobile.

The pope stepped out to receive a t-shirt from the group of fifth-grade students from Perugia, Italy, when he asked them who wanted to go for a ride.

From the chorus of, “Me! Me! Me!” replies, Francis picked two boys, 11-year-old's Livio Bastianelli and Davide Maria Bianchi.

Pope Francis has made a point of connecting with people in St. Peter’s Square since being elected as the leader of the Catholic Church last year.

Last Sunday, on Palm Sunday, Francis got out of his popemobile after his homily so he could take selfies with tourists from Rio de Janeiro, who had carried a large cross into the square.

In February, Pope Francis was photographed kissing his “Mini-Me” in front of a Vatican crowd. The little boy was dressed in tiny papal robes and a skull cap. The toddler’s grandmother made the outfit for Carnival, when children dress up in costumes in the weeks before Lent.

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Al Qaeda Affiliate Leader Praised in ‘Atypical’ Terror Gathering


AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The leader of al Qaeda’s most dangerous affiliate is the star of a propaganda video showing an unusually large gathering of apparent militants.

Nasir al-Wahishi, believed to be the leader of al Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), appears in good spirits as he addresses dozens of fighters as the black flag of al Qaeda flaps in the breeze among them.

“The enemy crusader still has cards to play,” al-Wahishi says in the footage. “We must remember that we are always fighting against the big enemy. We must eliminate the cross held by the cross bearer America.”

The highly produced, undated video was posted online at least two weeks ago and also shows the other fighters making displays of respect to al-Wahishi.

An American official told ABC News that the U.S. intelligence community believes the video is authentic and may show a gathering of escapees from a Yemen prison.

“The depiction of such a large gathering of fighters and the appearance of senior leaders are atypical of AQAP’s propaganda videos,” the official said.

Top U.S. officials have previously described AQAP as the most dangerous of the al Qaeda affiliates, more so than the terror group’s core cadre led by Ayman al-Zawahiri in southwest Asia.

Counted among AQAP’s members is Ibrahim al-Asiri, a devious bombmaker who is suspected of constructing explosive devices hidden in printer cartridges for the failed cargo planes bomb plot of 2009.

The Center for Combating Terrorism Center at West Point describes al-Wahishi as a “tiny wisp of a man with a jutting beard and soft-spoken manner” who joined al Qaeda before the 9/11 terror attacks on the U.S. Al-Wahishi himself escaped from a maximum security prison in Yemen in 2006, the center said.

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Oscar Pistorius Witness' Credentials Challenged in Latest Blow


GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images(PRETORIA, South Africa) -- Oscar Pistorius' defense appeared to have suffered a blow Wednesday when a forensic witness who contradicted the prosecution's version of the shooting of Reeva Steenkamp was challenged on his credentials as an expert in forensics and other elements of his testimony.

The witness, Roger Dixon, was forced to admit under questioning by prosecutor Gerrie Nel that he was not an expert in forensics, pathology, ballistics, blood spatter, or sound and optics.

Dixon told the court Tuesday that Steenkamp was close to the door and angling toward the door on her right side as if she was reaching for the doorknob. He also concluded that Pistorius fired four shots through the bathroom door in quick succession.

Dixon's testimony contradicts the prosecution's forensic experts who determined that Steenkamp was facing the door when the first bullet struck her in the hip and knocked her down. Nel had also told the court that she was afraid of Pistorius and was talking to him through the locked door when he shot her.

The prosecution had also argued that Pistorius fired one shot and Steenkamp screamed before Pistorius fired three more rounds.

Pistorius, 27, is charged with murder for shooting Steenkamp, 29, before dawn on Valentine's Day 2013. He could be sentenced to at least 25 years if convicted. Pistorius, a legless paralypian sprinter known as Blade Runner, claims he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder.

Dixon's testimony included a bullet-by-bullet account of Steenkamp's wounds, prompting another bout of retching by Pistorius in court.

In addition to giving a different version of how Steenkamp was shot, Dixon told the court that he helped record sounds of a cricket bat hitting against a door to show to the court that the sounds neighbors testified were the sound of gunshots could have been Pistorius breaking down the door to get to his mortally wounded girlfriend.

Nel questioned Dixon's expertise and professional affiliations.

"Are you a sound expert?" Nel asked.

"I would hope I'm a sound expert," he replied.

Nel repeated the question, referring to sound and acoustics specifically, to which Dixon said the test he did of the sound made by a cricket bat hitting a door and a gun firing was to determine whether the two could be confused.

"[The] expertise used was attempting to reconstruct the situation...I was not listening to myself making that sound," he said.

Nel asked Dixon how he conducted tests on how dark it would have been in Pistorius' bedroom when he claims he didn't know Steenkamp had gone into the bathroom.

"The instruments that I used were my eyes," Dixon said.

Dixon's qualifications as a forensics expert were also questioned by Nel, with the prosecutor getting so aggressive that the judge admonished him, "Mr. Nel, please restrain yourself.”

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Prince William and Duchess Kate Bring Prince George to Australia


Samir Hussein/WireImage(SYDNEY) -- The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge arrived in Sydney Wednesday for the second half of their 19-day tour Down Under.

Prince William and Duchess Kate treated local dignitaries to a royal first upon their arrival in Australia’s largest city, introducing them to their 8-month-old son, Prince George.

George -- dressed in a white romper accented by embroidered sailboats -- was alternatively carried by his mother and father as they descended their plane at Sydney Airport and greeted well-wishers and dignitaries that included Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

Kate, 32, wore a Roksanda Ilincic Ryedale dress from the London-based designer’s Spring/Summer 2014 collection that retails for around $1,500.

The vibrant yellow color of Kate’s dress paid homage to Australia’s national color but Prince William, 31, reportedly thought the dress reminded him of something else.

“William said I look like a banana,” Kate reportedly told a well-wisher.

The crowds loved William and Kate as they posed in front of the Sydney Harbour Bridge while attending a reception at the Sydney Opera House. Even though the new parents left Prince George behind for the event, their son was not far from their minds.

“I suspect George’s first word might be Bilby, only because Koala is harder to say,” Prince William said in a speech, referring to the rabbit-like animals indigenous and iconic to Australia.

It was not a Bilby but a stuffed wombat, another well-known Australian animal, that Prince George was gifted by Australia’s governor-general on Wednesday. George greeted the stuffed animal with a smile, as did his father, Prince William, who was nicknamed ‘wombat’ by his mother, Princess Diana.

Prince William spoke lovingly of his late mother, Diana, who gave her son the nickname when she, Prince William and his father, Prince Charles, traveled to Australia 31 years ago.

“My mother’s deep affection for Australia -- which you were so kind to reciprocate -- needs no reminder,” William said.

Later this week, William and Kate will travel to Ayers Rock, the iconic sandstone monument that Prince Charles and Princess Diana visited as well.

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Ukraine’s Offensive Falters as Elite Units Defect to Pro-Russia Side


GENYA SAVILOV/AFP/Getty Images(SLOVIANSK, Ukraine) -- Ukraine’s “anti-terrorist operation” to take back areas in eastern Ukraine seized by pro-Russian forces faltered Wednesday as units of Ukraine’s elite forces in tanks and armored personnel carriers defected to the pro-Russian side.

In at least two towns -- Sloviansk and Kramatorsk -- armored vehicles were seen flying Russian flags and carrying defected troops.

It comes after Ukraine made a big display of military might for journalists on Sunday, showing off the hardware and forces that would take part in the operation. A little while later, helicopters containing special forces took off on their first mission, taking back the Kramatorsk airfield that had been occupied by armed gunmen.

As the operation continued Monday, Ukrainian jets and helicopters could be seen flying across the skies of the eastern Donetsk region.

Ukraine’s acting president said on Sunday that the operation would be conducted “gradually with caution and responsibility.”

“I want to emphasize that the aim of the operation is to protect the citizens of Ukraine, to stop terror, to stop criminals and to stop attempts at tearing our country apart,” he said.

Pro-Russia protesters have been calling for greater autonomy for the eastern part of the country and for closer ties with Moscow.

Ukraine and the United States have repeatedly accused Russia of fueling the unrest in eastern Ukraine and on Wednesday, Ukraine’s acting Prime Minister Arsenly Yatsenyuk said Russia is “exporting terrorism” to Ukraine.

“Russia must withdraw its sabotage groups, condemn terrorists and liberate all administrative buildings,” Yatsenyuk said.

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Sub Deployed in Flight 370 Search Forced to Resurface Early


U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Peter D. Blair/Released(PERTH, Australia) -- The underwater search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 was temporarily interrupted on Wednesday.

The U.S. Navy's Bluefin-21, the robotic submarine searching the southern Indian Ocean for the missing Boeing 777, had to resurface Wednesday morning to fix a technical issue, Australia's Joint Agency Coordination Center said in a statement.

The JACC, which is leading the search for the jetliner, said an intial analysis of the data downloaded from the sub while it was on deck showed no significant detections.

The Bluefin-21 has since been redeployed and is continuing the slow process of creating a sonar map of the area to chart any debris on the sea floor. Each mission takes the sub a total of 24 hours to complete: two hours to reach the bottom of the ocean, 16 hours to execute its search, two hours to return to the surface, and four hours to download and analyze the data it collected.

Officials are hoping to find Flight 370's black boxes in order to understand what happened to the plane when it disappeared on March 8 with 239 people on board.

So far, crews have detected four signals consistent with the pings of an airplane's black box, which has a battery life of about a month.

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Hundreds Missing After Ferry Sinks off South Korea's Coast


The Republic of Korea Coast Guard via Getty Images(SEOUL, South Korea) -- Nearly 300 people are missing after a ferry carrying 462 passengers, many of them students, sank in cold waters off South Korea’s southern coast Wednesday.

So far, four deaths have been reported with 164 people having been rescued. A female crew member and a male student are among the fatalities.

The ferry, identified as the Sewol, was sailing from the port of Incheon in the northwest to the southern island of Jeju when it sent a distress call as it began leaning to one side.

[ CLICK HERE TO SEE PHOTOS FROM THE SCENE ]

Coast Guard crews tried to break into the ferry, searching for anyone left behind, but they have been unable to do so since the vessel has sunk more than 100 feet below the water's surface.

The reason for the crash is still unknown, but officials are looking into the possibility that it may have hit a reef.

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Iraq Shuts Down Abu Ghraib Prison


Wathiq Khuzaie/Getty Images(BAGHDAD) -- The Iraqi prison formerly known as Abu Ghraib has been shut down, perhaps permanently.

Iraq's justice ministry announced on Tuesday the "complete closure of Baghdad Central Prison...and the removal of the inmates in cooperation with the ministries of defense and interior."

The government suggested that the prison's shuttering was due to the rise of violence in Iraq, especially because the facility is located "in a hot area."

About 2,400 detainees alleged to have been involved in terrorist-related activities have been moved to other jails in central and northern Iraq.

Abu Ghraib prison first became notorious during the regime of the late dictator Saddam Hussein, whose minions committed unspeakable acts of torture against his political foes and ordinary criminals.

In 2004, following the U.S. occupation of Iraq, photographs surfaced of American prison guards abusing detainees at the prison. It's believed these images helped fuel the insurgency that stretched the U.S. war effort in Iraq until the end of 2011.

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Syrian Rebels Claim They Received US Missiles


creisinger/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The U.S. may have finally gotten around to providing Syrian rebels with the heavy artillery they've been demanding since the start of the conflict three years ago to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

According to a report by Agence France-Presse, "fighters from the Hazm movement have for the first time received more than 20 TOW anti-tank missiles from a Western source."

The AFP quoted an unidentified source familiar with the purported weapons hand-off.

The Hazm movement is a force within the Free Syrian Army. Amateur video released by an opposition media organization apparently shows rebels firing missiles at undisclosed locations in Syria.

U.S. officials have declined to comment on the source of the missiles.

The Obama administration has been skittish about providing opposition forces with heavy artillery, fearing it could fall into the heads of radical Islamic groups who have also joined in the Syrian civil war that has cost an estimated 150,000 lives since March 2011.

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Police Respond to Emergency Call from Dog


iStock/Thinkstock(LONDON) -- Police in England who responded to an emergency call at a house in the village of Edlesborough soon realized the "heavy breather" at the end of the line was a dog.

Leighton, a 2-year-old Belgian Malinois, has a long history with local police in the area -- having set off burglar alarms connected with the police station numerous times and barked continuously until the neighbors called authorities, his owner, Mary Amos-Cole, said.

"The police have been out loads of times to him,” Amos-Cole told ABC News. "I think he’s into uniforms. Most times it’s a lady copper that comes out. I think he wants to join the police force."

Amos-Cole and her husband Jeff Amos-Cole were in the garden on a calm, sunny day last week when Leighton decided to run off with the couple's cordless phone.

“We both got up and chased him, but he loves being chased and wiggling around the garden,” Mary Amos-Cole said. “He was tormenting us, so eventually we got it off him and sat down. Then we heard the postman at the gate saying ‘he won’t hurt you’.”

The couple had no idea with whom the postman was speaking with until a policewoman knocked at the front door and informed them they had received an emergency call filled with "heavy breathing" coming from the other end.

“We both said ‘oh no it must be Leighton’ and we all looked at him and he just came up and nudged us,” Amos-Cole said. “Luckily the policewoman was fine with it. She came in the house and started chatting and [Leighton] was going up to her and giving her his toys.”

A Thames Valley Police spokesman told ABC News that they had received a “silent” call on April 10 at 12:08 p.m.

“It was confirmed by the occupant at the address that their dog had accidentally called 999,” police said in a statement.

"He’s a bit of a pain actually, but we love him to bits," Amos-Cole said.

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Ukraine Retakes Airfield with ‘Anti-Terrorist’ Operation


Bulent Doruk/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(IZIUM, Ukraine) -- Ukraine’s military launched an offensive Tuesday to quell pro-Russian violence that has swept eastern Ukraine, as Russia’s prime minister tweeted an ominous message.

“There is foreboding of a civil war in #Ukraine,” Prime Minister Dmitriy Medvedev posted Tuesday.

In what Ukraine’s acting president has called an “anti-terrorist operation,” Ukraine’s military -- complete with helicopters loaded with special forces units -- quickly won back an occupied airfield, its first target.

There were reports of wounded pro-Russian protesters, raising fears in Washington that Moscow would use bloodshed as an excuse to invade Ukraine. Russia has repeatedly warned it may intervene to defend Russian speakers in Ukraine.

The U.S. warned of more possible sanctions Tuesday against Russia for meddling in Ukraine, and appeared cautiously supportive of the operation by Ukrainian security forces in eastern cities.

“We are obviously evaluating requests and looking at ways that we can support the Ukrainian government,” said White House press secretary Jay Carney.

“But our focus is on continuing to put pressure on Russia so that it understands that the international community is united when it comes to support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and that there is a path for Russia to take that would de-escalate the situation and ensure that it doesn’t devolve into violence.”

Amid the unrest and counter-offensive, life largely continued as normal. Most do not support the violence and fear it may spiral.

“I don’t want troops to be here,” said Kosta Kolsenik in the seized town of Sloviansk. “Really. It’s really dangerous for our people.”


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Italy Hopes Sale of Island Will Help to Pay Debts


iStock/Thinkstock(ROME) -- A financially desperate Italy has put an island in the Venice lagoon up for auction to help pay off its public debt. The Venetian island of Poveglia is one of a range of historic sites that Italy has put on sale, including a Catholic pilgrimage site and a 15th-century bastion.

Italy hopes the sale of these properties will bring its debt in line with European Union regulations. The government owns more than half a million commercial and residential properties that Italians and foreigners will have the chance to bid for online.

In the past 13 years, Italy has raised $2.5 billion by selling off state property. It expects to earn another $700 million more this year through the sales.
 
As a move to make the properties more enticing, Italy has cut down the number of permits needed to restore historic sites.

The auction is open until May 6.

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Berlusconi Convicted of Tax Fraud, Receives Sentence


Pete Souza / The White House(MILAN, Italy) -- Former Italian leader and convicted fraudster Silvio Berlusconi will be spending some quality time with older Italians.

A Milan court has agreed to allow the 77-year-old billionaire to volunteer once a week at an old-age home instead of being put under house arrest for his 2013 tax fraud conviction. The court rejected, however, Berlusconi’s request to act as a “motivational speaker” for the older residents.

Berlusconi was originally sentenced to four years in jail, which was later commuted to just one year. Italy does not send those over 70 to prison for non-violent crimes.

As part of the conviction, the former leader was also expelled from parliament and banned from running for office for a period of six years.

The ban, however, does not stop him from campaigning politically. He’s leading the charge for his center-right party Forza Italia in the European Union elections next month.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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