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The chair of the Federal Reserve offered a hopeful assessment of the economy today, coupled with words of warning.
Speaking at a congressional hearing, Janet Yellen said things are picking up after a long, hard winter.
JANET YELLEN, Federal Reserve Chair:
Many recent indicators suggest that a rebound in spending and production is already under way, putting the overall economy on track for solid growth in the current quarter. One cautionary note, though, is that readings on housing activity, a sector that has been recovering since 2011, have remained disappointing so far this year and will bear watching.
Yellen also said the job market remains far from satisfactory, and she told lawmakers the Fed has no intention of raising short-term interest rates any time soon.
On Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average gained 117 points to close at 16,518. The Nasdaq was down 13 to close at 4,067, as Internet stocks fell for a second day. And the S&P 500 added 10 points to finish at 1,878.
Federal agents stepped up a national crackdown on synthetic drugs today. The Drug Enforcement Administration announced hundreds of search and arrest warrants were served in at least 25 states. Agents seized thousands of packets of drugs known as bath salt, spice and Molly, plus hundreds of pounds of chemical ingredients.
In Thailand, the constitutional court has ordered Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to leave office. It ruled today she abused her power by transferring a top official to another position purely for political benefit. Yingluck appeared hours after the ruling to assert her innocence. Nine of her cabinet ministers were ousted as well.
Vietnam claimed today that Chinese ships have intentionally rammed some of its vessels in the South China Sea. Officials showed video of one of the ramming incidents. The Chinese ships also fired water cannons at Vietnamese crews. Hanoi said several boats were damaged and six people were injured. The confrontation came as Vietnam is trying to stop China from operating an oil rig near the Paracel Islands in disputed waters.
TRAN DUY HAI, Vice Chairman, National Borders Committee (through interpreter):
Vietnam will have to use all measures stipulated in the U.N. charter to defend its interests. As you know, this is a very sensitive and dangerous issue, and we think it threatens peace, stability and maritime safety and security in the South China Sea.
China insisted the oil rig was in its territorial waters and that drilling there is normal and legal. But, in Washington, the State Department called the Chinese actions provocative and dangerous.
This was election day for South Africans. Lines were long at polling stations in the first elections to include young voters born since the end of white minority rule in 1994; 22,000 polling stations were open, with final results expected Saturday. The African National Congress is expected to win a return to power, despite strong challenges from the opposition.
President Obama spent some time today in Vilonia, Arkansas, where a tornado killed 15 people and wrecked hundreds of homes last month. The president got a look at the damage zone, about 30 miles north of Little Rock. He said victims need to know they're not alone and that the government will help them rebuild.