U.S. economy shrugs off end of brutal winter, bounces back with gain of 288K jobs

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The American economy shrugged off the end of a brutal winter last month, rebounding with the biggest hiring surge in two years and suggesting that the job market’s gains could endure.

Employers added 288,000 jobs across industries from manufacturing to construction to accounting. Even local governments hired. The unemployment rate sank to 6.3 percent, its lowest point since 2008, from 6.7 percent.

But the rate fell that far because many fewer people began looking for work in April, thereby reducing the number of unemployed. The proportion of Americans who either have a job or are looking for one dropped to a three-decade low.

And the monthly employment report the government released Friday showed that worker pay has yet to pick up -- evidence that the job market has not fully recovered.

Yet April’s robust hiring gains suggested that the economy is returning to the solid pace of growth it achieved in the second half of 2013, before it was hammered by a harsh winter. Job growth has averaged 203,000 a month in the past six months, similar to last year’s average of 194,000.

Ukraine launches offensive against pro-Moscow forces; unrest in Odessa kills dozens

SLOVYANSK, Ukraine (AP) -- Ukraine launched an offensive against separatist forces for control of a besieged eastern city Friday, while clashes between pro- and anti-government activists in the previously calm southern port of Odessa led to a fire that police said killed 31 people.


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The first serious offensive by the government in Kiev and the dozens of deaths in Odessa sharply escalated the crisis that has led to the worst tensions between Russia and the West since the Cold war. The Kremlin said the battle for the separatist-held city of Slovyansk effectively destroyed the Geneva pact aimed at cooling the unrest in the deeply divided country.

Oleksandr Turchynov, Ukraine’s acting president, said many insurgents were killed or wounded in the eastern offensive that also underlined the military’s vulnerability. The military action came two days after Kiev said it had lost control of eastern Ukraine.

Both sides said two Ukrainian helicopters were shot down by the insurgents near Slovyansk, killing two crew members, while authorities said another seven people also died: three separatist gunmen, two soldiers and two civilians.

By nightfall, Ukrainian troops and armored personnel carriers blocked all major roads into Slovyansk, and the central part of the city remained in the hands of pro-Russia gunmen, according to Associated Press journalists inside. Most shops were closed, and the few that were open were crowded with customers stocking up on supplies.

Obama: Botched execution highlights significant problems with the death penalty

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama on Friday called the botched execution of an Oklahoma inmate "deeply troubling" and announced that he’s going to ask the attorney general to analyze problems surrounding the application of the death penalty in the United States.

In his first public comments on the case of convicted murderer Clayton Lockett, the president, who formerly taught constitutional law, expressed conflicting feelings about the death penalty and said Americans need to "ask ourselves some difficult and profound questions around these issues."

Obama said the death penalty is warranted in some cases, specifically mentioning mass murder and child murder, and said Lockett’s crimes were "heinous." But he said the death penalty’s application in the United States is problematic, with evidence of racial bias and eventual exoneration of some death row inmates.

"All these, I think, do raise significant questions about how the death penalty is being applied," said Obama said, who was asked about the case at a White House news conference with visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel. "And this situation in Oklahoma I think just highlights some of the significant problems there."

The state of Oklahoma attempted to carry out Lockett’s death sentence Tuesday by lethal injection, using a drug combination that had not been previously used in the state. Lockett convulsed violently during the execution and tried to lift his head after a doctor declared him unconscious, then died of an apparent heart attack 43 minutes after the execution began.

U.S., Germany warn Putin not to disrupt Ukraine’s May election

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel threatened tough sanctions Friday on broad swaths of Russia’s economy if Moscow disrupts Ukraine’s May 25 presidential elections, putting President Vladimir Putin on notice for harsher penalties even if he stops short of a full invasion.

Standing side by side in the White House Rose Garden, Obama and Merkel sought to bat down the notion of any discord between the U.S and European approaches to dissuading Putin from interfering in Ukraine. Obama said the U.S. and Europe have shown "remarkable unity" in their response so far, though he acknowledged that some European countries are vulnerable to Russian retaliation for sanctions and said those concerns must be taken into account.

"The next step is going to be a broader-based sectoral sanctions regime," Obama declared, referring to entire segments of Russia’s economy, such as energy or arms.

"If in fact we see the disruptions and the destabilization continuing so severely that it impedes elections on May 25th, we will not have a choice but to move forward with additional, more severe sanctions," the president said.

As Merkel arrived at the White House, Ukraine’s interim government launched its first major offensive against a pro-Russian insurgency that has seized government buildings across the eastern part of the country. The insurgents shot down two Ukrainian helicopters Friday, though Ukrainian officials said many insurgents had been killed or wounded. The Kremlin said the Ukrainian government’s actions had destroyed all chances for a two-week-old diplomatic deal to de-escalate the crisis.

Landslide in Afghanistan kills 350, hundreds more missing

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- A landslide triggered by heavy rain buried large sections of a remote northeastern Afghan village on Friday, killing at least 350 people and leaving more than 2,000 missing. Villagers looked on helplessly and the governor appealed for shovels to help dig through the mass of mud that flattened every home in its path.

The mountainous area in Badakhshan province has experienced days of heavy rain and flooding, and the side of a cliff collapsed onto the village of Hobo Barik around midday. Landslides and avalanches are frequent in Afghanistan, but Friday’s was one of the deadliest.

Gov. Shah Waliullah Adeeb said more than 2,000 people were missing after the landslide buried some 300 homes -- about a third of all the houses in the area.

At least 350 people were confirmed dead, according to Ari Gaitanis, a spokesman from the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. He said the U.N. was working with authorities on the ground to rescue people still trapped.

The governor said rescue crews were working but didn’t have enough equipment.

Northern Ireland police get extra 48 hours to interrogate Gerry Adams over 1972 IRA killing

BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) -- Northern Ireland police were granted an extra 48 hours Friday to interrogate Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams about the 1972 IRA killing of a Belfast widow, infuriating his Irish nationalist party and raising questions about the stability of the province’s Catholic-Protestant government.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland confirmed in a statement its detectives received permission at a closed-door hearing with a judge to detain Adams for up to two more days.

Had the request been refused, authorities would have been required to charge Adams or release him Friday night, two days after his arrest in the abduction, slaying and secret burial of Jean McConville, a mother of 10. The new deadline is Sunday night, although this too could be extended with judicial permission.

The unexpectedly long detention of Adams left senior party colleagues seething. Sinn Fein warned it could end its support for law and order in Northern Ireland -- a key peacemaking commitment that enabled the creation of a unity government seven years ago -- if Adams is charged.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, the Sinn Fein official who governs Northern Ireland alongside British Protestant politicians, said his party would reconsider its 2007 vote to recognize the legitimacy of Northern Ireland’s police if Adams isn’t freed without charge. Protestants required that commitment before agreeing to cooperate with Sinn Fein.

American hospitalized with Middle East virus after return from Saudi Arabia; first case in U.S.

NEW YORK (AP) -- Health officials on Friday confirmed the first case of an American infected with a mysterious Middle East virus. The man fell ill after arriving in the U.S. last week from Saudi Arabia where he was a health care worker.

The man is hospitalized in stable condition in northwest Indiana with Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is investigating the case along with Indiana health officials.

The virus is not highly contagious and this case "represents a very low risk to the broader, general public," Dr. Anne Schuchat told reporters during a CDC briefing.

The federal agency plans to track down passengers he may have been in close contact with during his travels; it was not clear how many people may have been exposed to the virus.

Officials didn’t provide any details about the man’s job in Saudi Arabia or whether he was treating MERS patients there. Saudi Arabia has been the center of a MERS outbreak that began two years ago, and infections have been reported in health care workers.

Tentative cease-fire in Syrian city of Homs ahead of rebel evacuation, a victory for Assad

HOMS, Syria (AP) -- Isolated and battered after months of bombardment and blockades, Syrian rebels agreed Friday to a cease-fire that would allow hundreds of fighters to evacuate their last bastions in Homs, handing over to President Bashar Assad’s forces a strategic but largely destroyed city once hailed as the capital of the revolution.

The deal reached on Homs, Syria’s third-largest city, follows a series of military gains by the regime around the capital, Damascus, and in the country’s vital center.

"It will certainly mark a new chapter for the regime, a chapter where it’s regaining control of the country," said Ayham Kamel, an analyst with the Eurasia group in London.

A government seizure of Homs would be "the icing on the cake for Assad," said Charles Lister, a visiting fellow at Brookings Doha Center.

Although the agreement, if it holds, represents a demoralizing admission of defeat by opposition forces, it can also be seen as a face-saving deal for both sides. Weakened rebels, for whom Homs’ collapse was only a matter of time, get a safe exit, while the government can save manpower and weapons and claim it was able to retake the last rebel bastions without blood.