AP Top News at 3:31 p.m. EDT

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In this photo released by China's Xinhua news agency, heavy smoke rises over the Tajoura area, some 30 km east of Tripoli, Libya, after an airstrike on Tuesday March 29, 2011. (Xinhua/Hamza Turkia) NO SALES

Moammar Gadhafi's ground forces recaptured a strategic oil town Wednesday and were close to taking a second, making new inroads in beating back a rebel advance toward the capital Tripoli. Western powers kept up the pressure to force Gadhafi out with new airstrikes to weaken his military, hints that they may arm the opposition and intense negotiations behind the scenes to find a country to give haven to Libya's leader of more than 40 years. Airstrikes have neutralized Gadhafi's air force and pounded his army, but those ground forces remain far better armed, trained and organized than the opposition. The rebels, with few weapons more powerful than rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns, can attack targets 3 to 4 miles (5 to 6 kilometers) away, but the loyalists' heavy weapons have a range of 12 miles (20 kilometers).

WASHINGTON (AP) — For all the talk of recovery, Americans are growing increasingly pessimistic about the economy as soaring gas costs strain already-tight budgets. So far, people aren't taking it out on President Barack Obama, a new Associated Press-GfK poll shows. Even so, the survey highlights a central challenge Obama will face in his campaign for re-election. The president will have to convince a lot of voters who are still feeling financial hardship that things are getting better.

TOKYO (AP) — Fears about contaminated seafood spread Wednesday despite reassurances that radiation in the waters off Japan's troubled atomic plant pose no health risk, as the country's respected emperor consoled evacuees from the tsunami and nuclear emergency zone. While experts say radioactive particles are unlikely to build up significantly in fish, the seafood concerns in the country that gave the world sushi are yet another blemish for Brand Japan. It has already been hit by contamination of milk, vegetables and water, plus shortages of auto and tech parts after a massive quake and tsunami disabled a coastal nuclear power plant.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Renewed House-Senate budget negotiations aimed at averting a government shutdown center on possibly cutting $33 billion from current spending levels, a senior congressional aide said Wednesday. Democrats pressed to ease GOP cuts to domestic agency budgets by slowing Pentagon growth and trimming so-called mandatory programs whose budgets run on autopilot. The $33 billion figure is well below the $60 billion-plus in cuts passed by the House last month but also represents significant movement by Senate Democrats originally backing a freeze at current rates. Tea party-backed GOP stalwarts want more, and it's unclear whether they could live with the midway arrangement between top Democrats and Speaker John Boehner.

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A bill that would limit collective bargaining rights for 350,000 Ohio public workers neared passage before the Republican-controlled House on Wednesday, one of its final hurdles before the measure goes to the governor of this labor-stronghold state. The legislation is in some ways tougher than Wisconsin's, as it would extend union restrictions to police officers and firefighters. But its reception in Ohio has paled in intensity with the raucous fight in Wisconsin, where tens of thousands demonstrated against the bill.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Seeking to show the public he understands the burden of rising gas prices, President Barack Obama set an ambitious goal of reducing U.S. oil imports by one-third by 2025, and vowed to break through the political gridlock that has stymied similar initiatives for decades. "Presidents and politicians of every stripe have promised energy independence but that promise has so far gone unmet," Obama said Wednesday during a speech on energy at Georgetown University.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Long-forgotten photos that show James Earl Ray being brought to jail after his arrest for assassinating Martin Luther King Jr. were unveiled Wednesday to commemorate the 43rd anniversary of the civil rights leader's death. Dozens of the striking black-and-white photos, along with letters Ray wrote from jail and other documents, were found in 2007 among old county records in a warehouse in east Memphis, Shelby County Register Tom Leatherwood said. A few photos were posted on The Commercial Appeal's website to accompany a story published Wednesday, and Leatherwood planned to make the rest available on a county website later in the day.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Jim Brady, President Ronald Reagan's smooth-talking press secretary, hasn't stopped speaking his mind, forcefully and poignantly, and that was clear Wednesday on the 30th anniversary of the assassination attempt that paralyzed him. "I wouldn't be here in this damn wheelchair if we had common-sense legislation," he said Wednesday at a Capitol Hill news conference, joined by his wife, Sarah, and lawmakers in calling for gun control legislation. The Bradys head the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

NEW YORK (AP) — The first batch of hundreds of photos taken in orbit of Mercury show numerous battle scars on the tiny planet. They are from space rocks regularly pelting Mercury at high speeds, scientists said. NASA's Messenger spacecraft, the first to orbit Mercury, reveals a pock-marked planet full of craters from pieces of asteroids and comets. Mission chief scientist Sean Solomon said that what is surprising to scientists so far is that there are more secondary craters than expected. Those are craters created by the falling soil kicked up from space rock collisions.

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Former New York Yankee Randy Velarde testified Wednesday that he purchased a performance-enhancing drug from Barry Bonds' personal trainer throughout the 2002 season, the Texas native's last after 16 years in the big leagues. Velarde said the human growth hormone gave him more "endurance and strength" and that personal trainer Greg Anderson would help him inject the drug.