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WASHINGTON, D.C. (BNO NEWS) — With employers in the United States adding just 96,000 jobs last month, the national unemployment rate dropped to 8.1 percent as nearly four times as many people gave up searching for jobs altogether and left the labor force, the U.S. Labor Department (DOL) said on Friday.

Economists had expected payrolls to rise by at least 125,000 in August, and some even pushed their forecasts higher after positive private sector data on Thursday. And while a drop in the unemployment rate from 8.3 to 8.1 percent may seem positive, it was mostly the result of some 368,000 people who gave up their search for work.

In the August 2012 Employment Situation report released by the Labor Department on Friday, the department highlighted the addition of 4.6 million private sector jobs over the last 30 months, including nearly 2 million in the last year. Nonetheless, economists say the U.S. economy needs to add at least 150,000 to 200,000 jobs a month to make a significant dent in the jobless rate and to keep up with the population growth in the country.

U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis stated that “an economic crisis that was decades in the making will not be solved overnight,” noting that the economy was in ‘free fall’ when President Barack Obama took office. “Credit markets were frozen, and our nation was bleeding hundreds of thousands of jobs a month. But our recovery remains on a stable trajectory of positive job growth. Smart and steady wins the race.”

Republican Mitt Romney, who will face Obama in the presidential election on November 6, criticized the weak jobs report and claimed his plan would create up to 250,000 new jobs a month. “If last night was the party, this morning is the hangover,” he said, referring to Obama’s acceptance speech at the Democratic National Committee. “For every net new job created, nearly four Americans gave up looking for work entirely.”

Romney added: “This is more of the same for middle class families who are suffering through the worst economic recovery since the Great Depression. After 43 straight months of unemployment above 8%, it is clear that President Obama just hasn’t lived up to his promises and his policies haven’t worked. We aren’t better off than they were four years ago.”

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (BNO NEWS) — Initial claims for unemployment insurance in the United States dropped to 365,000 in the week ending September 1, a decrease of 12,000 compared to the previous week, according to figures released by the U.S. Labor Department (DOL) on Thursday.

Despite the positive numbers, which is a one-month low, the DOL report reveals only little progress in the U.S. economy as it continues to struggle to create new employment opportunities. But a private survey by payroll provider ADP suggests businesses stepped up hiring in August.

The 4-week moving average for unemployment benefits, a less volatile measure, was 371,250, an increase of 250 from the previous week’s revised average of 371,000, the report said. It also showed that the number of unemployed with unemployment insurance for the week ending August 25 remained the same at 2.6 percent when compared to the previous week.

However, there was also a decrease of 6,000 in the number of workers who claimed benefits under regular state unemployment programs, totaling 3,322,000 during the week ending August 25, according to the latest DOL report. The 4-week moving average was 3,320,750, a decrease of 3,500 from the preceding week’s revised average of 3,324,250.

The highest insured unemployment rates in the week ending August 18 were in Puerto Rico (4.2), Pennsylvania (3.7), New Jersey (3.7), Connecticut (3.7), Alaska (3.6), California (3.5), New York (3.1), Rhode Island (3.0), Oregon (3.0), and Massachusetts (2.9).

The largest increases in initial claims for the week ending August 25 were in New York (+3,110), North Carolina (+1,237), Georgia (+1,039), Massachusetts (+731), and Ohio (+631), while the largest decreases were in California (-1,757), Pennsylvania (-1,273), Michigan (-1,203), Florida (-844), and South Carolina (-787).

But the ADP survey, which is derived from actual payroll data and measures the change in total nonfarm private employment each month, showed private-sector employment increased by 201,000 from July to August on a seasonally adjusted basis. The estimated gain from June to July was revised up from the initial estimate of 163,000 to 173,000.

“According to this month’s ADP National Employment Report, the U.S. economy added 201,000 jobs in August, the largest increase in five months,” said Carlos A. Rodriguez, president and chief executive officer of ADP. “The improvement in job creation this month is encouraging and we hope it continues across all sectors of the U.S. economy.”

Joel Prakken, chairman of Macroeconomic Advisers, LLC, added: “The August increase of 201,000, following a solid gain in July, supports the notion that the underlying trend in hiring has picked back up after slowing sharply during the spring. The August increase was well above the consensus forecast for today’s release and for the official jobs number due out Friday from The Bureau of Labor Statistics.”

Prakken said the gain in private employment in August is strong enough to suggest that the national unemployment rate may have declined. “Today’s estimate, if matched by a similar reading on employment from the BLS on Friday, will alleviate concerns that the economy has slipped into a downturn,” he said.

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KABUL, AFGHANISTAN (BNO NEWS) — A coalition helicopter crashed in eastern Afghanistan on Wednesday, killing two American service members, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and a U.S. military official said. It comes less than a week after another crash.

The helicopter came down in Logar province, reportedly setting off a heavy firefight between coalition troops and Taliban insurgents. ISAF spokesman Captain Dan Einert confirmed two ISAF service members were killed in the crash, who a U.S. military official in Washington, D.C. said were American.

“The crash resulted in the deaths of two International Security Assistance Force service members,” Einert said. “It is far too early in the investigation to speak definitively about the cause of the crash. Pending the conclusion of the investigation additional information may be released as relevant.”

But Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed insurgents brought down the helicopter. “Amid bloody fighting Mujahideen (Muslim fighters) shot down a large Chinook helicopter, causing it to set on fire and killing all American terrorists aboard,” he said. Military officials have not released the type of aircraft involved in the crash.

Mujahid said two Taliban insurgents were killed in the subsequent firefight but insisted the majority of casualties were among coalition troops. “The area has remained surrounded by the invaders and their puppets, whereas Mujahideen are still lying in ambush, ready to strike terror in the hearts of the American cowardly troops,” he added.

The Taliban often exaggerates its account for propaganda purposes, and the group frequently claims credit for attacks which are later found to have been carried out by other insurgent groups or incidents which are determined to have been an accident. The insurgents are also known to fabricate false reports.

Wednesday’s crash follows a number of other helicopter accidents in recent weeks. Two Australian Special Forces soldiers were killed on August 30 when an ISAF helicopter crashed in Helmand province, just two days after another ISAF helicopter made a hard landing in eastern Afghanistan.

And on August 16, seven American service members and four Afghans were killed when a Black Hawk helicopter crashed in the Chinartu area of Shah Wali Kot district in Kandahar province. Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi claimed responsibility for that crash as well, but a formal cause has not yet been made public.

There are currently more than 129,000 ISAF troops in Afghanistan, including some 90,000 U.S. troops and more than 9,500 British soldiers. U.S. President Barack Obama previously ordered a drawdown of 23,000 U.S. troops by the end of this summer, and foreign combat troops are due to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (BNO NEWS) — The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) on Tuesday fined Russia’s largest airline Aeroflot for violating new aviation rules in the United States which require carriers to advertise the full fare and allow customers to hold reservations for 24 hours.

New DOT airline passenger protection rules took effect on January 26 and require both U.S. and foreign airlines as well as ticket agents to advertise the full fare, including government taxes and fees. Previously, airlines and ticket agents were not required to include certain government-imposed taxes as long as these additional charges were clearly disclosed.

But U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said airfare searches on Aeroflot’s website after January 26 returned separate listings of base fares for outbound and inbound legs that did not include additional government taxes and fees. The total fare to be charged was ultimately disclosed at the bottom of Aeroflot’s website, but the carrier failed to advertise the entire price to be paid by the consumer when a fare was first stated.

LaHood said Aeroflot also violated a new rule which requires airlines to include a commitment in their customer service plans allowing reservations to be held at the quoted fare without payment, or cancelled without penalty, for at least 24 hours after a reservation is made if the reservation is made one week or more before a flight’s departure. A customer service plan posted on Aeroflot’s website between January 24 and March 13 did not include this commitment.

“Airline passengers should be able to easily determine the full price for air transportation before they travel, and have the opportunity to either reserve a ticket without payment or cancel without penalty for 24 hours,” LaHood said in a statement. “DOT will continue to stand up for consumers and take enforcement action when these rules are violated.”

The U.S. Department of Transportation said it fined Aeroflot a civil penalty of $60,000 and ordered the carrier to cease and desist from further violations. Aeroflot is the flag carrier and largest airline in Russia, flying millions of people a year to dozens of destinations around the world.

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ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (BNO NEWS) — A suicide bomber rammed his explosives-laden vehicle into a U.S. government vehicle in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar on Monday morning, killing two Pakistani nationals and wounding more than a dozen others, officials said.

The attack happened on Abdara Road in the University Town area of Peshawar when the suicide bomber crashed into the SUV of the U.S. Consulate which is located nearby. Journalists at the scene reported seeing burned U.S. passports, but police and government officials said no Americans were killed.

“We can confirm that a vehicle belonging to the U.S. Consulate in Peshawar was hit in an apparent terrorist attack,” said U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland. “Two U.S. personnel and two Pakistani staff of the Consulate were injured and are receiving medical treatment. No U.S. Consulate personnel were killed, but we are seeking further information about other victims of this heinous act.”

Police said more than 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of explosives were used in the attack, which resulted in a large explosion and left a crater at the scene. Two Pakistani nationals, one identified as Swat resident Barkatullah Kahn, were confirmed to have been killed while nineteen others were injured and taken to area hospitals.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton strongly condemned Monday’s attack during a press conference in Jakarta, Indonesia. “We pray for the safe recovery of both American and Pakistani victims and once again we deplore the cowardly act of suicide bombing and terrorism that has affected so many people around the world, and which we all must stand against,” she said.

Meanwhile, Charge d’affaires Ambassador Richard Hoagland from the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad thanked local authorities for their quick response after the attack. “I am grateful for the humane professionalism of the local Pakistani security forces who saved the lives of the two American Diplomats and two Pakistani local staff of the U.S. Consulate General Peshawar by pulling them to safety after their vehicle was attacked,” he said.

Hoagland added: “In this dangerous world where terrorists can strike at any moment, we must all work together – Pakistanis and Americans alike – because we have a strong mutual interest in defeating terrorism.”

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari also strongly condemned the attack, calling it a “heinous crime” and saying the perpetrators would not be spared. “The President expressed sorrow over the loss of lives and prayed for the departed souls to rest in peace,” his office said in a statement. “He directed best possible treatment for the injured.”

Interior Minister Rehman Malik ordered an investigation into the attack, for which no group immediately claimed responsibility.

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SALTILLO, MEXICO (BNO NEWS) — A gas explosion ripped through a coal mine in northern Mexico on Wednesday morning, killing seven workers underground, state officials confirmed on Thursday. It follows a deadly mine accident which killed fourteen people nearly 1.5 year ago.

The accident happened at around 8:30 a.m. local time on Wednesday when a blast hit the La Florida mine in Muzquiz, a municipality in the northern state of Coahuila. State Public Security Secretary Jorge Luis Moran Delgado said seven bodies were later pulled out of the coal mine.

“Although subject to an investigation by experts, the explosion may have been caused by the accumulation of gas,” a spokesperson for the state government said, adding that the victims were about 75 meters (245 feet) underground. He identified the victims as men between the ages of 20 and 39.

The coal mine was operated by El Progreso SA de CV, which was previously inspected by Mexico’s Work and Social Welfare Ministry. The ministry had also previously ordered a suspension of activities in at least two of the company’s coal mines due to a lack of emergency exits.

In May 2011, fourteen people were killed when a methane gas explosion caused a shallow mine shaft to collapse at a coal mine in the municipality of Sabinas, also located in the northern state of Coahuila. A 15-year-old boy who was also working at the mine was seriously injured and had his right arm amputated.

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KABUL, AFGHANISTAN (BNO NEWS) — A roadside bomb exploded in southern Afghanistan on Thursday, killing two coalition service members, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said. It raises the number of foreign troops killed so far this year in Afghanistan to 260.

ISAF said two of its service members were killed as a result of an improvised explosive device (IED) attack in Afghanistan’s volatile south. But because the multinational force defers the release of specific details to national authorities, no other details about the incident were released, including the exact location.

The nationalities of the service members involved were also not immediately disclosed by ISAF, again per its policy. “It is ISAF policy to defer casualty identification procedures to the relevant national authorities,” ISAF said in a brief statement, giving no specific details. The alliance does also not report injuries.

The death on Thursday raise the number of coalition troops killed in Afghanistan so far this year to 260, according to official figures. A total of 566 ISAF troops were killed in Afghanistan in 2011, down from 711 in 2010. A majority of the fallen troops were American and were killed in the country’s south, which is plagued by IED attacks on troops and civilians.

There are currently more than 130,000 ISAF troops in Afghanistan, including some 90,000 U.S. troops and more than 9,500 British soldiers. U.S. President Barack Obama previously ordered a drawdown of 23,000 U.S. troops by the end of this summer, and foreign combat troops are due to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

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SEDONA, ARIZONA (BNO NEWS) — A small plane registered to a two-time Olympian crashed at an airport in the U.S. state of Arizona on early Thursday morning, killing all three people on board, federal officials said. The cause of the accident was not immediately known.

The accident happened at around 8:30 a.m. local time when the small twin-engine Beech B-60 aircraft was attempting to take off from Runway 3 at the local airport in Sedona, a city that straddles the county line between Coconino and Yavapai counties in Arizona.

“The aircraft, departing Runway 3, went off the end of the runway [and] down a tree-covered slopping hill. The aircraft caught fire,” said Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) spokesman Allen Kenitzer. Three people were on board the aircraft and all were killed, local authorities said.

The cause of the accident was not immediately known, but Kenitzer said both the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will investigate the crash. “NTSB is the lead investigative agency,” he said, adding that it typically takes months before the agency comes up with a probable cause.

Federal records show the 1979-built aircraft was registered to Patrick R. Porter of Albuquerque, New Mexico. CNN said Porter is a two-time Olympian and an eight-time U.S. cross country champion, finishing 15th in the 10,000 meters at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and participating in 1988 in Seoul, South Korea.

Authorities have not released the names of the victims, and it was not immediately possible to confirm whether Porter was on board the aircraft when it crashed on Thursday. His wife, Trish, was also an Olympian in 1988, CNN reported.

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PORT MATHURIN, MAURITIUS (BNO NEWS) — A strong earthquake struck the Indian Ocean far off Rodrigues island in Mauritius on Thursday morning, seismologists said, but causing no damage or casualties. It was the strongest earthquake to hit the region in recent history.

The 6.7-magnitude earthquake at 9:33 a.m. local time (0533 GMT) was centered about 387 kilometers (240 miles) northeast of Port Mathurin, the main village on Rodrigues island in Mauritius. It struck about 9.8 kilometers (6.1 miles) deep, making it a very shallow earthquake, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

The USGS, which initially measured the strength of the earthquake at 5.8 on the Richter scale, said the epicenter of the earthquake was centered too far from Rodrigues island to have been felt there. This was confirmed by residents and officials on the island who said they did not feel tremors.

Neither the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center nor the Mauritius Meteorological Service issued a tsunami warning.

Thursday’s earthquake was the largest earthquake to hit the region since at least August 2010, when a strong 6.3-magnitude earthquake struck 320 kilometers (199 miles) northeast of Rodrigues island. There is no record of any other significant earthquakes in the region in recent years.

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SAANICH, BRITISH COLUMBIA (BNO NEWS) — Police in western Canada have arrested a man accused of driving more than 300 kilometers (186 miles) per hour on a British Columbia highway and putting video of the motorcycle ride on the internet, officials said on late Wednesday.

Police earlier this month issued an arrest warrant for 25-year-old Randy George Scott after someone uploaded a video to YouTube showing a motorcyclist who recorded himself weaving through traffic on the Trans-Canada Highway near Victoria. The speedometer shows the driver traveling at nearly 300 kilometers (186 miles) per hour as the motorcycle rockets in between vehicles.

“The man responsible for the infamous YouTube video ‘Victoria Highway Run 299km’ is in custody in Kelowna cells,” Cst. Kris Clark, a spokesman for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), said on Wednesday. He said Scott turned himself in just after 7 p.m. local time on Tuesday.

“The video appears to show a motorcyclist travelling at extremely dangerous speeds, weaving in and out of traffic and passing between vehicles on the lane dividing line,” Clark said. “Videos such as this glorify dangerous driving behaviors which is a direct contradiction to our commitment to road safety.”

Scott, who has 25 previous infractions and was driving unlicensed and uninsured, remains in police custody and has been charged with Dangerous Operation of a Motor Vehicle. The blue Yamaha R1 motorcycle he is accused of having used in the video, and which was registered to his mother, was seized by police in April.

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