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March 9, 2013 at 8:40 AM
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Obama: Economy has 'momentum'

WASHINGTON, March 9 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama said Saturday he is seeking compromise with Republicans because keeping the economy's momentum going "has to be our driving focus."

In his weekly radio and Internet address, the president noted there had been positive signs of growth this week, including a Labor Department report that the economy added 236,000 jobs in February and the unemployment rate reached 7.7 percent -- "still too high, but now lower than it was when I took office."

"Our businesses have created jobs every month for three years straight -- nearly 6.4 million new jobs in all," he said. "Our manufacturers are bringing jobs back to America. Our stock market has rebounded. New homes are being built and sold at a faster pace."

Obama said the nation needs to "do everything we can to keep that momentum going."

"That has to be our driving focus -- our North Star," the president said. "And at a time when our businesses are gaining a little more traction, the last thing we should do is allow Washington politics to get in the way."

He said that is why he has been meeting with congressional Republicans, and has more meetings planned with Republicans and Democrats "to see if we can untangle some of the gridlock."

Obama said his meetings with Republicans this week were "open and honest," focusing not only on the economy but also on immigration reform and gun violence.

Bomb kills at least 3 in Kabul

KABUL, Afghanistan, March 9 (UPI) -- An explosion outside the Afghan Defense Ministry in Kabul Saturday killed at least three civilians, police said.

Officials told the BBC six other people were wounded in the attack, which occurred not long after U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel arrived in the country on an official visit.

The New York Times reported Hagel was not in the vicinity when the blast occurred about 9 a.m. Heavy gunfire followed the explosion.

Afghan Gen. Dawlat Waziri told the Times the explosion, which occurred at a gate used by employees and visitors, was probably a car bomb but could not confirm whether it was a suicide attack or an empty vehicle filled with explosives.

The Times also reported a ceremony to mark the transfer of full control of Bagram Prison to Afghanistan was canceled Saturday for unclear reasons. The newspaper said the cancellation created a cloud of doubt about the U.S.-Afghan agreement on custody of the remaining Afghan prisoners held by American forces.

The Times said while there was no official word on the cancellation, it was likely to embarrass Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who rankled American officials Wednesday when he criticized the Americans' slowness on the detention issue and promised to release many of the prisoners as soon as the transfer was complete.

Sessions blasts Democrat budget plan

WASHINGTON, March 9 (UPI) -- With Senate Democrats set to unveil their budget plan next week, Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions says he fears the plan will "crush American workers."

The Alabama senator's remarks came during the GOP's weekly media address Saturday, The Hill reported.

Sessions said he believes the national debt is slowing the economy and that a balanced budget and an end to the deficit can be reached by capping annual spending growth at 3.4 percent.

"But I fear the Democrat proposal will fail this defining test and will never achieve balance. I fear it will crush American workers and our economy with trillions in new taxes, spending and debt," said Sessions, the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee.

"I fear Chairman Murray will follow the President's lead: Raising taxes to enrich the bureaucracy at the expense of the people," Sessions said, referring to Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray, D-Wash.

Senate Democrats formally present their budget plan on Wednesday. Meanwhile, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., will unveil the House Republicans' budget plan within the next week.

"Government has never been bigger or more out of control. They say there is no problem with waste, fraud, and abuse; they say the problem is you; they say you are not sending them enough money; they say they have wisely spent every penny. So, you must just send them more. And, if you don't? Well, they won't stop spending, they'll just borrow more," Sessions said.

"These destructive policies cannot continue. We are at the breaking point," he said.

Falkland islanders prepare for referendum

STANLEY, Falkland Islands, March 9 (UPI) -- The coming referendum in the Falkland Islands has lured the international news media and official election observers to the remote British overseas territory.

About 50 journalists were expected to arrive by plane from Chile Saturday while a British contingent was already in the Falklands, The Daily Telegraph reported. That includes Russian and Japanese TV crews.

Two days of voting begins Sunday. The 1,700 eligible voters will answer one question: "Do you wish the Falklands Islands to retain their current political status as an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom?"

The islanders are expected to vote yes by an overwhelming margin.

The plane carrying the journalists will also bring observers from Mexico, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay. Juan Manuel Henao, deputy head of the Referendum International Observation Mission, said including observers from South America was a "conscious decision."

"The Falkland Islands are a Latin American issue and it is important for these observers to vouch for the process and draw their conclusion about what has gone on here," he said.

The Falklands group includes hundreds of islands, most of them uninhabited. About three-quarters of the population of less than 3,000 people live in the capital, Stanley.

Argentina and Britain have been disputing sovereignty for decades. The two countries fought a war over the Falklands, known to Argentina as the Malvinas, in 1982 and more recently President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has tried taking the issue to the United Nations, arguing that the British seized the islands illegally in 1833.

John Fowler, who works for the Penguin News, the Falklands newspaper, said islanders hope the referendum will show the issue is not just a two-way fight between Britain and Argentina.

"Who owns the Falklands? Well, we, the Falkland Islanders, own the Falklands, actually," he said. "We have a historical and mutually loyal relationship with Britain, but we are not part of the United Kingdom."

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