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Oct. 30, 2009 at 12:00 PM
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Report: Stimulus created, saved 650K jobs

WASHINGTON, Oct. 30 (UPI) -- The $787 billion U.S. economic stimulus program saved at least 650,000 state and local jobs, a report released Friday by the Obama administration indicated.

The results, based on $150 billion in spending, is the first look at the stimulus program's impact on the U.S. economy, CNNMoney.com reported. The numbers were pulled from reports by state and local recipients of the funds, as well as figures provided by private companies.

"We're solidly on track to create or save 3.5 million jobs by the time this program winds down," administration economist Jared Bernstein said. "There's a lot more ammunition in that Recovery Act. The stimulus package is absolutely working, both in GDP (gross domestic product) terms and in terms of saving or creating jobs."

The White House said the actual number of jobs created so far likely would be closer to 1 million, noting its report focused only on $150 billion of the $339 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds spent so far.

The White House said stimulus funding drove the 3.5 percent growth in the economy during the third quarter. Meanwhile, Republicans said the rising unemployment rate, now at a quarter-century high of 9.8 percent, indicates the recovery act failed.

Recipients calculated the number of full-time positions directly created or saved with stimulus funds as of Sept. 30, CNNMoney.com said. Job numbers don't include indirect positions affected by stimulus-funded projects.

Possible 9/11-linked passport found

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Oct. 30 (UPI) -- Pakistani army personnel found a passport of a man linked to two hijackers involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, officials said.

Army officials said the passport of Said Bahaji, a German born in Morocco, was among weapons, documents and literature Pakistani troops found in South Waziristan region, the BBC reported Friday.

Bahaji remains at large. Officials said they suspect he was a member of the Hamburg, Germany, cell that planned the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York and Washington. Bahaji was charged in absentia in connection with the thousands of deaths from the attacks

Whether the passport is genuine or where it was found couldn't be independently verified, the British broadcaster said.

Officials told the BBC if the passport is real, its find would be the first direct link between Taliban militants in South Waziristan and the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Afghan panel OKs more polling places

KABUL, Afghanistan, Oct. 30 (UPI) -- Afghanistan's election commission, despite safety and fraud concerns, says it will open at least 6,300 polling places for a Nov. 7 presidential runoff election.

U.N. officials recommended that only 5,800 polling centers be open because of the danger of attacks, the chances of fraud and the short time frame to prepare for the runoff between incumbent Hamid Karzai and challenger Abdullah Abdullah, The Washington Post reported.

Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission officials said they were confident Afghan security forces could protect the centers, but did not say how the polling places would be staffed, or how they would remove polling officials who were accused of fraud in the original Aug. 20 election.

The panel said it would close 11 voting stations in five provinces because they were susceptible to insurgent attacks or because of winter weather conditions in mountainous regions, the Post said.

U.N. sources said they thought commissioners may be adding polling places to help maximize votes for Karzai, who appointed them. Tensions ran high in September between the commission and a U.N.-appointed panel that oversaw an investigation into widespread fraud in the balloting.

Concerns about preparation and security issues have risen recently because of a new round of Taliban efforts to sabotage the election, the Post said.

On Wednesday, a Taliban squad stormed a U.N. guesthouse in Kabul, killing five international staffers and three Afghans before security forces killed the attackers. The apparent targets of the attack were U.N. election workers staying at the house.

Saudis make flu plans for Mecca ritual

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, Oct. 30 (UPI) -- Saudi Arabian authorities say they are taking special steps to prevent next month's annual pilgrimage to Mecca from becoming a hub for spreading swine flu.

About 2.5 million people from 160 countries usually pack into Saudi Arabia's holy city for the five-day hajj (pilgrimage) scheduled for the final week of November. This year some will be bringing swine flu, The New York Times says, and Saudi authorities are trying to mute the effect.

Officials have asked some worshipers, including pregnant women and the elderly, not to make the trip and have asked the World Health Organization and other health agencies for help.

This year, America's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is playing a major role because of its experience with the new flu strain.

CDC consultants have spent tme in Riyadh, flu experts at American medical schools have been called in and the U.S. Navy's medical laboratory in Cairo is preparing to help.

British mail strikes could drag on

GLASGOW, Scotland, Oct. 30 (UPI) -- Another round of strikes by British postal workers could disrupt delivery of Christmas mail, postal officials said.

The latest strike, expected to last at least two days, started Thursday.

Officials from the Communication Workers Union (CWU) and managers of the Royal Mail resumed talks Thursday night following a collapse of negotiations the day before, the Glasgow Herald reported Friday.

The Royal Mail issued a statement urging the union "to call off all strike action and concentrate with us on supporting customers during the autumn and Christmas peak mail period."

The union has refrained from naming additional strike dates but leader Billy Hayes warned the work stoppages could escalate into longer walkouts.

"There is every prospect that we will increase the action and we could be looking at longer strikes," Hayes said.

Jim McKechnie, secretary for the union's Glasgow branch seconded Hayes' warning.

"There will be strikes until we can deal with Royal Mail -- there's nothing else we can do," McKechnie said.

Among the issues in the dispute are job cuts and pension benefits.

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