In other news Thursday, home foreclosures rose by 6 percent in February, the smallest amount in four years. Also, partial election results show the Iraqi prime minister running neck-and-neck with a challenger.
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Home foreclosures may be easing up. The number of households facing foreclosure rose by 6 percent last month. But the private firm RealtyTrac said that was the smallest increase in four years.
On Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average gained 44 points to close above 10611. The Nasdaq rose nine points to close at 2368.
In Iraq, partial results from Sunday's national elections showed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's party running neck and neck with challenger Ayad Allawi. Maliki's followers led in two southern provinces, in a blow to hard-line religious Shiites. Allawi's secular Shiite group was ahead in two provinces in the north, with the backing of Sunnis. At the same time, Allawi's coalition charged widespread fraud in the vote.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai said today he doesn't want any proxy wars fought on his soil between the U.S. and Iran or anyone else. This week, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates accused Iran of backing the Taliban while it seeks closer ties with the Afghan government.
Today, in Abu Dhabi, Gates said again Iran is playing a double game. But he also said it is not a serious threat, yet.
ROBERT GATES, U.S. secretary of defense: At this point, the level of their effort, I think, is not a major problem for us. The level of their support for the Taliban so far, as best we can tell, has been pretty limited. I was just trying to express the hope that it wouldn't get any worse than that.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has rejected Gates' criticism. He accuses the U.S. of playing both sides.
A series of powerful aftershocks shook Chile again, as the new president, Sebastian Pinera, was sworn in. The strongest of the quakes measured 6.9 and sent people scrambling into the streets. Pinera evacuated the congressional building in Valparaiso, where he was sworn in. And he urged coastal residents to head for higher ground in case of tsunamis. The alert was lifted later. Chile is still recovering from last month's 8.8-magnitude earthquake.
Vice President Biden made a bid to calm tensions with Israel today before ending his three-day visit there. His trip was overshadowed by word that Israel will expand settlements on disputed lands in East Jerusalem. The vice president had condemned the announcement.
Today, at Tel Aviv University, Biden played up U.S. ties to Israel, and he said, sometimes, only a friend can deliver the hardest truth.
U.S. VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN:
I realize this is a very touchy subject in Israel, as well as in my own country, but because that decision, in my view, undermined the trust required for productive negotiations, I, and at the request of the president, Obama, condemned it immediately.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas agreed this week to indirect talks with the Israelis. Arab leaders backed the move, but the head of the Arab League said today the talks are off. He blamed the Israeli housing plans.
AMRE MOUSSA, secretary-general, Arab League: We were ready to enter into it, into those negotiations. And we said that in — in — in very clear terms in the statement of position which was announced on the 2nd of March. Then, we were faced with what Israel has done. Now Israel bears the responsibility, not the Arab side, but Israel bears the responsibility.
In Washington, the State Department said it has no information that the planned talks are in trouble.
Major street clashes rocked Athens, Greece, today. It was the second nationwide strike against the government in a week. Police said more than 20,000 workers marched through the city, protesting cuts in civil servant pay, tax hikes, and a pension freeze. The march turned violent when protesters threw stones and riot police fired back with tear gas. The strike grounded flights, closed schools, and left hospitals with only emergency staff on hand.
The House today blocked efforts to reopen an ethics investigation involving former Congressman Eric Massa. The New York Democrat resigned Monday over allegations that he sexually harassed male employees. Reports today said Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office was told last October of concerns about Massa's behavior.
With that, Minority Leader John Boehner demanded a probe into what and when House Democratic leaders knew about the allegations. The House refused on a near-unanimous vote.
Also today, Senator John Ensign faced new questions about steering lobbying jobs to the husband of a onetime mistress. The New York Times reported e-mail messages show the Nevada Republican tried to assist his former administrative aide. Federal law bans staffers from lobbying Congress within a year after leaving government.
Former pro football defensive great Merlin Olsen died early today outside Los Angeles. He had a form of lung cancer. Olsen was a member of the Los Angeles Rams' Fearsome Foursome in the 1960s, and made the Hall of Fame. Later, he starred in several television series, including "Father Murphy" and "Little House on the Prairie."
Merlin Olsen was 69 years old.