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In other news Thursday, first-time claims for unemployment benefits fell to the lowest number in three years. Hiring in the service sector grew at the fastest rate since 2006. Also, a retired FBI agent who disappeared in Iran while working as a private investigator may be alive and being held in southwest Asia.
Two new economic reports raised hopes today about the U.S. jobs picture. First-time claims for unemployment benefits were the lowest in nearly three years. And the latest measure of hiring in the service sector was the best since 2006.
The news sent Wall Street on a buying binge. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 191 points to close at 12,258. And the Nasdaq rose more than 50 points to close above 2,798.
A retired FBI agent who disappeared in Iran four years ago may be alive after all. The State Department said today it has indications that Robert Levinson is in southwest Asia. The Associated Press reports there's now irrefutable proof that he is alive. Levinson was working as a private investigator looking into cigarette smuggling when he vanished from an Iranian island in 2007. He's now 63.
Authorities in Germany said today the suspect in the shooting deaths of two U.S. airmen has confessed. He was identified as Arid Uka, an ethnic Albanian from Kosovo. Officials say he opened fire on U.S. forces at Frankfurt Airport yesterday.
In Wiesbaden today, the region's top security official said Islamic militancy may have been the motive.
BORIS RHEIN, interior minister, state of Hesse (through translator): There are hints that he is a radicalized Muslim. The evidence to date indicates that he acted on his own. It is true that he was active on Facebook, that he was active in the frame of this network, but there is no network in the sense of, for instance, a terror cell. KWAME HOLMAN: A third U.S. airman wounded in the shooting remained in critical condition in Germany.
In Southern Sudan today, officials blamed troops from the North for killing more than 100 people this week. The fighting was focused on a town claimed by both sides and surrounding villages. Southern Sudan voted to secede from the North in January. It is set to gain independence in July.
In West Africa, new violence has broken out in Ivory Coast. Security forces machine-gunned a crowd of women today, killing at least six. They were protesting President Laurent Gbagbo's refusal to leave office. He lost last November's election to Alassane Ouattara, but has refused to concede. U.N. officials said thousands of people now are fleeing the violence.
Hundreds of Christians in Pakistan demonstrated today over the killing of the country's only Christian cabinet minister. Protesters held up banners showing Shahbaz Bhatti and burned tires in the streets. Bhatti was gunned down Wednesday by militants who had threatened him for months.
Elsewhere, a car bomb in Pakistan's troubled northwest region killed seven people, three of them police officers.
The prime minister of Egypt has resigned. Ahmed Shafiq was appointed by President Hosni Mubarak in late January. Mubarak stepped down in February, and opposition forces demanded Shafiq leave as well.
In Bahrain, Shiite opposition forces — groups agreed to talks with the ruling Sunni monarchy. The opposition is demanding a constitution and a new government.
Another veteran Democrat is leaving the U.S. Senate. Hawaii Senator Daniel Akaka issued a statement Wednesday announcing he will not run for reelection in 2012. Akaka is 86 years old and now in his third term. He'd had trouble raising money for another run. So far, four Senate Democrats have announced their retirements, along with two Republicans and one independent.
A federal judge in Florida today ordered that states go on implementing the health care reform law, but he also said the Obama administration has been slow to appeal his decision that the law is unconstitutional. And he warned if there's no appeal within the next seven days, then the states may consider the law invalid.
Those are some of the day's major stories.
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