AP Top News at 2:55 a.m. EST

Streaming release of 'Interview' test for industry
ATLANTA (AP) - Sony's "The Interview" has been a hacking target, a punchline and a political lightning rod. Now, with its release online at the same time it debuts in theaters, it has a new role: a test for a new kind of movie release. "The Interview" stars Seth Rogen and James Franco as journalists tasked by the CIA with killing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Its Christmas Day release was canceled by Sony after threats of violence by hackers linked to North Korea. But after an outcry, the release was reinstated in some independent theaters and now, through a few online video services.

Sony broadly releases 'The Interview' in reversal of plans
LOS ANGELES (AP) - Amid a swell of controversy, backlash, confusion and threats, Sony Pictures broadly released "The Interview" online Wednesday - an unprecedented counterstroke against the hackers who spoiled the Christmas opening of the comedy depicting the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. "It has always been Sony's intention to have a national platform on which to release this film," Sony Pictures chair and CEO Michael Lynton said in a statement. "We chose the path of digital distribution first so as to reach as many people as possible on opening day, and we continue to seek other partners and platforms to further expand the release."

Protesters rally for 2nd night after shooting near Ferguson
BERKELEY, Mo. (AP) - Demonstrators have taken to the streets for a second night after a white police officer in Berkeley, Missouri, killed a black 18-year-old who police said pointed a gun at him. Dozens of protesters held a vigil Wednesday night at the gas station in the St. Louis suburb where Antonio Martin was shot the night before. Then they marched to Interstate 170, at times blocking traffic, before returning to the station.

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A glance at key police shootings in St. Louis area
ST. LOUIS (AP) - The shooting death of 18-year-old Antonio Martin marks the third fatal shooting of a young black man by a white police officer in the St. Louis area since Michael Brown was killed in August. Here's a glance at the circumstances in each case:

Afghans hope for change after bloody year
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - When Graeme Smith arrived in Afghanistan in 2005, he drove across the country from Kabul south to the Talban's former capital Kandahar on a newly paved road that cut travelling time from a bone-rattling 14 hours to just six. Today, 13 years after the U.S.-led invasion toppled the Taliban's brutal regime, and after billions of aid dollars flowed into one of the world's poorest countries, making that same 460-kilometer (300-mile) trip would be like signing his own death warrant, said Smith, Afghanistan analyst with the International Crisis Group, an independent conflict resolution organization.

CDC monitoring tech for possible Ebola exposure
ATLANTA (AP) - A laboratory technician at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was being monitored Wednesday for possible accidental exposure to the Ebola virus that came during an experiment, officials said. The person working in a secure laboratory in Atlanta may have come into contact with a small amount of a live virus, CDC spokeswoman Barbara Reynolds said in an emailed statement. The experimental material was on a sealed plate, but wasn't supposed to be moved into the lab in which the technician was working, Reynolds said. The worker will be monitored for 21 days and the person's name hasn't been released.

Dreaming of a white Christmas? Go West
NEW YORK (AP) - If it's a white Christmas you're after, you'd better follow this familiar advice: Go West. Snow will be falling in the western U.S. on Thursday, with anywhere from 2 to 6 inches in the valleys up to a foot in higher elevations in northern California, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana, according to the National Weather Service.

Cuba relations with Catholic Church at high point
HAVANA (AP) - Golden rays of tropical sunlight slant through the caved-in roof of Saint Thomas de Villanueva chapel, illuminating tiles graced by the faces of saints. Vandals shattered the stained-glass windows and scrawled their names on the thick walls during decades of frigid relations between the Roman Catholic Church and Cuba's communist government. But a new chain-link fence surrounds the building, protecting it for a future that once seemed unimaginable.

China tightens church control ahead of Christmas
BEIJING (AP) - Two days before Christmas, members of a rural Christian congregation in the eastern city of Wenzhou welded some pieces of metal into a cross and hoisted it onto the top of their worship hall to replace one that was forcibly removed in October. Within an hour, township officials and uniformed men barged onto the church ground and tore down the cross.

NORAD 'tracks' Santa's journey across globe
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) - Volunteers at the North American Aerospace Defense Command are pretending to monitor Santa Claus as he makes his storybook Christmas Eve flight. So far, NORAD says it used the heat signature from Rudolph's nose to "track" St. Nick over spots ranging from Australia to South America and on to the United States. Technology and social media have become an important part of the U.S. and Canadian military tradition, and NORAD Tracks Santa has already attracted around 1.6 million Facebook "likes."

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