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March 8, 2013 at 5:04 PM
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Unemployment ticks down to 7.7 percent

WASHINGTON, March 8 (UPI) -- The U.S. unemployment rate dropped to 7.7 percent in February on a gain of 236,000 jobs, the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday.

The rate matches the figure from November of last year, which was the lowest jobless rate since December 2008.

Economists had expected the February rate to remain unchanged at 7.9 percent.

"The unemployment rate ... has shown little movement, on net, since September 2012," the Labor Department said after revising its estimate of January gains from 157,000 to 119,000.

At the same time, the department tweaked its December figure higher, estimating 219,000 jobs were added in the final month of 2012, rather than 196,000 as previously reported.

TSA agent gets through check with 'bomb'

NEWARK, N.J., March 8 (UPI) -- A screeners at New Jersey's Newark Liberty International Airport failed to find the fake bomb hidden in an undercover agent's pants, officials say.

Sources told the New York Post the security breach occurred Feb. 25. In a story published Friday, the Post said the agent was part of a team of four Transportation Security Agents who posed as ordinary airline passengers at a single checkpoint in Terminal B at the airport.

"This episode once again demonstrates how Newark Airport is the Ground Zero of TSA failures," a source told the newspaper.

The agent first went through a magnetometer and then a pat-down. He had a mock improvised explosive device on his person that was not detected.

A female agent was caught carrying an IED hidden in a child's doll -- with wires sticking out.

Venezuelans wait for hours to view Chavez

CARACAS, Venezuela, March 8 (UPI) -- Venezuelans waited for hours Friday to view the body of President Hugo Chavez as foreign leaders were escorted in through a side door.

Chavez, who died of cancer Tuesday at 58, lay in state at a military academy in Caracas, The New York Times reported. Some of those waiting to see him had been in line for more than 24 hours.

"I've been here since yesterday and to tell you the truth I don't feel tired," Genesis Briceno, 22, an economics student, told the Times Friday morning. "I want to see him."

Chavez's mother, Elena, was applauded when she arrived.

Raul Castro of Cuba, Evo Morales of Bolivia, Rafael Correa of Ecuador and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, all allies of Chavez in Latin America, came to Caracas. They were joined by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who called Chavez a "dear friend of all nations worldwide," CNN reported.

China warns against N. Korean escalation

BEIJING, March 8 (UPI) -- China called for calm after North Korea announced it had scrapped its peace pacts with South Korea and threatened pre-emptive nuclear strikes.

"China and North Korea have normal country relations. At the same time we also oppose North Korea's conducting of nuclear tests. China calls on the relevant parties to be calm and exercise restraint, and avoid taking any further action that would cause further escalation," said Hua Chunying of the Chinese foreign ministry at a press conference Friday.

The North Korean government angrily denounced a U.N. resolution, drawn by China and the United States and passed Thursday, placing additional sanctions on North Korean banking and imports, the BBC reported Friday.

In response, the North Korean government pulled out of all non-aggression pacts with South Korea, cut off the North-South telephone hotline, closed the Panmunjon border crossing and pulled out of the armistice that ended the war between the two sides, the North Korean news agency KCNA said.

U.N.: Peacekeepers still held by rebels

AL JAMLAH, Syria, March 8 (UPI) -- The U.N. peacekeepers held by Syrian rebels remained captive and housed in multiple locations in a village near the Golan Heights, a U.N. official said Friday.

"Our 21 peacekeepers are detained in the [Syrian] village of al-Jamla. Apparently they are safe and they have been spread into four or five locations within that village in the basements of various houses," Undersecretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Herve Ladsous said at U.N. headquarters in New York.

"That particular village is subject to intense shelling by the Syrian armed forces," Ladsous said in a release. "Of course we are working 24/7 in the area of operation, with people in the region, and here in the Secretariat, to secure their release under good conditions as quickly as possible."

He said there was a possibility that a cease-fire of a few hours could be called so the peacekeepers, who have been held since Wednesday, could be released.

If the cease-fire were to happen, Ladsous said, there would be a strong expectation the Syrian army would not retaliate.

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