Recent bounce in economy could be tested by unemployment report

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The U.S. economy is growing faster, corporate profits are rising and companies are laying off the fewest workers in six years.

The latest government reports point to economic momentum in the midst of the critical holiday shopping season.

"The momentum looks strong," said Chris Rupkey, chief economist at the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi.

Encouraging as the latest figures are, hopes for a robust finish to 2013 hinge on strong hiring. And that depends, in part, on what the government’s November jobs report shows when it is released on Friday.

The recovery from the Great Recession that ended 4 1/2 years ago has come in fits and starts. Unemployment remains high at 7.3 percent. And growth has yet to reach the acceleration that defined U.S. economic recoveries for much of the past half century.

Obstacles on left and right for Congress’ negotiators struggling to seal a federal budget deal

WASHINGTON (AP) -- With hopes of a "grand bargain" long gone, congressional negotiators now are seeking a more modest deal before year-end to ease the automatic spending cuts that are squeezing both the Pentagon and domestic federal programs. But the going is getting rougher.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said Thursday she would withhold support from any compromise to ease across-the-board cuts until Republicans also agree to renew expiring unemployment benefits for America’s long-term jobless, adding a major complication.

At the same time, conservatives are balking at a proposal to raise fees on airline tickets to pay for TSA agents as part of an agreement, another hurdle.

GOP leaders, meanwhile, are preparing a backup plan for averting another government shutdown in January if there’s no budget deal by then.

Negotiators on Capitol Hill are trying hard to close out a deal but are facing resistance from Pelosi and other Democrats determined to add $25 billion to extend federally-paid jobless benefits. Those benefits average $269 a week to people whose 26 weeks of state-paid unemployment benefits have run out.

Fighting erupts in Central Africa Republic capital, France to send more troops

BANGUI, Central African Republic (AP) -- Wielding rifles and machetes, armed Christian fighters who support the Central African Republic’s exiled president assaulted the capital at dawn on Thursday, leaving nearly 100 people dead. Shrouded bodies were lined up in a mosque as dozens of wounded lay on blood-stained hospital floors.

The ambush on Muslim neighborhoods of Bangui came as the United Nations voted to send a contingent of French troops to try to stabilize the country, and French President Francois Hollande announced plans to double the force. The daylong gunbattle touched even the most protected parts of the capital, including the residence of the prime minister, underscoring the volatile mix of arms and ideology facing the arriving French force.

Scores died in Thursday’s attack, including 48 people whose bodies were laid out at a mosque in a northern suburb of Bangui. Separately, a Doctors Without Borders spokeswoman, Amelie Ketoff, said another 50 deaths had been confirmed, bringing the toll to 98.

Some died of bullet wounds, others from what appeared to be machete blows using a weapon known in the local language as a "balaka." The Christian militia, whose members are believed to have led the attack Thursday, call themselves the "anti-balaka," reminiscent of the horrific violence once seen in Rwanda.

Rebel leader-turned-president Michel Djotodia appealed for calm, even as his residence was looted and vandalized by the fighters. He announced a dusk-to-dawn curfew in a bid to stem the threat of retaliatory violence against Christians, following the early morning attack on Muslim neighborhoods.

Al-Qaida-style attack in Yemen
kills 52, underscoring militants’ ability to strike capital

ADEN, Yemen (AP) -- Militants stormed the Defense Ministry in the heart of Yemen’s capital Thursday, killing 52 people, including at least seven foreigners, in a suicide car bombing and assault by gunmen. The brazen, al-Qaida-style attack follows a rise in U.S. drone strikes in this key American ally in the Middle East.

The two-stage operation came as the defense minister was in Washington for talks. The U.S. military increased its regional alert status after the attack and is "fully prepared to support our Yemeni partners," a senior U.S. defense official said.

At least 167 people were wounded, nine seriously, in the bombing and fierce firefight, which underscored the ability of insurgents to take advantage of Yemen’s instability and tenuous security -- even at the headquarters of its military.

Among the dead at the Defense Ministry complex, which also houses a military hospital, were soldiers and civilians, including seven foreigners -- two aid workers from Germany, two doctors from Vietnam, two nurses from the Philippines and a nurse from India, according to Yemen’s Supreme Security Commission, which issued the casualty figures. Among the Yemeni civilians killed were a doctor and a senior judge, it said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, the deadliest in Sanaa since May 2012. Such suicide bombings and complex attacks are the hallmarks of al-Qaida.

In North Dakota oil patch, bundled-up workers persevere as temperatures fall well below zero

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) -- With the wind chill falling to almost minus 40, Steve Hendershot’s mind was elsewhere Thursday as he and his crew of roustabouts worked an oil rig in North Dakota’s booming oil patch.

On palm trees and beaches, in fact.

"Sometimes you just got to close your eyes and dream of a warm, happy place," said Hendershot, working near Souris. "I’m doing that today."

The cold weather sweeping the Plains wasn’t cooling off work in the oil patch, which moves forward in all weather. But even hardened oilmen were taking note of the dangerous conditions that were expected to keep daily highs below zero until Sunday.

The National Weather Service said a powerful winter storm that slammed much of the central and Western U.S. continued to intensify Thursday. The bitterly cold temperatures were widespread, blamed on the jet stream’s move southward, and the deep freeze was expected to linger at least through the weekend.

Legion priest who resigned after fathering child to marry daughter of top Vatican adviser

VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Thomas Williams, the onetime public face of the disgraced Legion of Christ religious order who left the priesthood after admitting he fathered a child, is getting married this weekend to the child’s mother, The Associated Press has learned. The bride is the daughter of former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Mary Ann Glendon, one of Pope Francis’ top advisers.

Glendon, a Harvard University law professor, is one of the highest-ranking women at the Vatican as president of the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences. She is also one of five people on Francis’ commission to reform the scandal-marred Vatican bank. Her daughter, Elizabeth Lev, is a Rome-based art historian and columnist for the Legion-run Zenit news agency, which Williams published for over a decade while he was in the order.

Williams, a moral theologian, author, lecturer and U.S. television personality, admitted last year that he had fathered a child several years earlier.

At the time, Williams apologized for "this grave transgression" against his vows of celibacy and said he had stayed on as a priest because he hoped to move beyond "this sin in my past" to do good work for the church. The Legion’s retired superior later admitted he had learned about the child in 2005 but allowed Williams to keep teaching and preaching about morality.

After taking a year off for reflection, Williams left the priesthood in May to care for his son. According to their wedding registry, he and Lev are due to marry on Saturday in the United States.