HAVANA

Pope increases political pressure on Cuba in sermon

Pope Benedict XVI demanded more freedom for the Catholic Church in communist-run Cuba and preached against “fanaticism” in an unusually political sermon before hundreds of thousands at Revolution Plaza, with President Raul Castro in the front row.

Later, the president’s brother, revolutionary leader Fidel, grilled the pontiff on changes in church liturgy and his role as spiritual leader of the world’s Catholics, a Vatican spokesman said.

Benedict’s homily was a not-so-subtle jab at the island’s leadership before a vast crowd of Cubans, both in the sprawling plaza and watching on television. But he also clearly urged an end to Cuba’s isolation, a reference to the 50-year U.S. economic embargo and the inability of 11 American presidents and brothers Fidel and Raul Castro to forge peace.

“Cuba and the world need change, but this will occur only if each one is in a position to seek the truth and chooses the way of love, sowing reconciliation and fraternity,” Benedict said.

LOS ANGELES

Former President H.W. Bush plans to endorse Romney

Former President George H.W. Bush plans to endorse Mitt Romney at an event Thursday in Houston.

Romney spokeswoman Gail Gitcho says the two will appear together and speak to reporters.

Formal backing from the 41st president is another sign that the Republican Party is uniting behind Romney as pressure builds on challengers Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich to leave the race.

The elder Bush has offered encouraging words to Romney throughout the primary season but had withheld a formal endorsement.

NASHVILLE, Tenn.

Banjo legend, bluegrass pioneer Earl Scruggs dies

Bluegrass legend and banjo pioneer Earl Scruggs, who teamed helped profoundly change country music with Bill Monroe and later with guitarist Lester Flatt, has died. He was 88.

Scruggs’ son Gary said his father passed away Wednesday morning at a Nashville, Tenn., hospital. Gary Scruggs said his father died of natural causes.

His string-bending and lead runs became known worldwide as “the Scruggs picking style.” It was perhaps most prominently displayed on the iconic theme from “The Beverly Hillbillies.”

NEW YORK

Tiny dachshund makes big impression with small size

A very tiny puppy is sitting inside a coffee mug, trying without success to escape by scratching its little paws against the slippery surface. In recent days, this famous dog has been placed alongside a variety of small objects – an iPhone, a business card and a tape measure, among other things – to demonstrate just how tiny she really is.

This is Beyonce, a female dachshund mix who was born March 8 to a rescue dog that was found abandoned, wandering the streets of San Bernardino, Calif. At birth, she weighed just 1 ounce and could fit into a teaspoon. Her caretakers say she’s one of the smallest puppies ever born full-term –  and her story of unlikely survival has captured the attention of people all over the world.

Beyonce wasn’t breathing when she was born at the foundation’s farm in El Dorado Hills, Calif. A veterinarian tried to revive her by performing chest compressions. Then he passed her over to Beth Decaprio.

“I blew a couple little breaths in her mouth,” Decaprio says. “And she started to breathe on her own.”

SANTA CRUZ, Calif.

Poet Adrienne Rich, 88, who backed feminist rights, dies

Poet Adrienne Rich, whose socially conscious verse influenced a generation of feminist, gay rights and anti-war activists, has died. She was 82.

Rich, who had lived in Santa Cruz since the 1980s, died Tuesday at her home. Her son, Pablo Conrad, says she died of complications from rheumatoid arthritis. Rich published more than a dozen volumes of poetry and five collections of nonfiction. She won a National Book Award for her collection of poems “Diving into the Wreck” in 1974.

LOS ANGELES

3.4 million-year-old foot suggests Lucy had company

Lucy, that starlet among ancient human relatives, may have shared the stage with a hominin very different from herself, a newly discovered fossil suggests.

Out of the Ethiopian desert, researchers have unearthed a rare, 3.4 million-year-old partial foot that resembles those belonging to Ardipithecus ramidus, a species thought to have roamed East Africa a million years before Lucy and other members of her species, Australopithecus afarensis.

The findings, published in Thursday’s edition of the journal Nature, provide the first good evidence that another bipedal human relative was still climbing trees at the same time that Lucy and her kind had their feet planted on the ground.

Foot bones are seldom found intact because they’re usually too delicate to survive in harsh environments, said Bruce Latimer, a paleoanthropologist at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland who worked on the study.

Lucy’s foot shares many fundamental qualities with those of modern humans. Our big toes are large and parallel with the other four, and all are able to bend and push off the ground, making Homo sapiens an excellent walker. This new fossil, however, has more apelike features.

– From news service reports