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March 12, 2013 at 8:22 AM
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U.S. employers cautiously optimistic

MILWAUKEE, March 12 (UPI) -- Hiring intentions in the United States will continue to show a cautiously optimistic approach in the second quarter of 2013, a survey released Tuesday said.

Employers in every state, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia indicate "positive hiring plans," for the second quarter, the Manpower Employment Outlook Survey said.

North Dakota continues as the United States' leader in hiring intentions with the index for the state rising from 21 percent to 30 percent, indicating "a significant increase in job prospects," Manpower said in a release.

Manpower said the percentage of employers who indicated staff reductions were planned dropped to 5 percent, the smallest percentage for headcount reductions since the third quarter of 2000.

The bulk of employers, 73 percent, indicated they planned to keep the size of their payrolls unchanged in the second quarter, which is the highest percentage of employers indicating stability was in order since the first quarter of 2011.

On the positive side, construction firms "anticipate ... a considerable increase in hiring" for the second quarter, Manpower said.

CIA ups Iraq role to fight Syria Islamists

WASHINGTON, March 12 (UPI) -- The CIA has increased its role in Iraq to fight al-Qaida affiliates backing an Islamic militant group in Syria, U.S. officials told The Wall Street Journal.

The stepped-up covert mission supporting Iraq's Counter-terrorism Service, or CTS, targets al-Qaida in Iraq, also known as al-Qaida in Mesopotamia, a Salafi jihadi militant al-Qaida affiliate that is part of the Iraqi insurgency.

U.S. intelligence agencies believe the al-Qaida group is providing a steady stream of fighters to battle for Syria's al-Nusra Front, also called Jabhat al-Nusra, an opposition militant group that has attacked Assad regime installations and controls parts of northern Syria, the Journal said.

The State Department placed al-Nusra on its list of foreign terror organizations in December, calling the group an alias for al-Qaida in Iraq.

The White House directed the CIA to support CTS -- an elite anti-terrorism group that reports directly to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki -- in a series of secret decisions from 2011 to late 2012, the Journal said.

Journalist flees from Syrian captors

DAMASCUS, Syria, March 12 (UPI) -- Ukrainian journalist Anhar Kochneva is free after spending more than 150 days in captivity in Syria, Ukraine's Foreign Ministry confirmed.

Ministry spokesman Yevhen Perebiynis said the reporter was expected to contact the Ukrainian Embassy in Damascus Tuesday, the British newspaper The Guardian reported.

Kochneva, who has written for Syrian and Russian newspapers, was kidnapped in October and reportedly held by members of the Free Syrian Army opposition group.

Kochneva announced her escape in a blog post, The Guardian said.

"Your Alice has come back through the looking glass. More later," the post read.

In interviews with Russian media, Kochneva said she escaped from the house where she was held and walked about 9 miles before reaching a Syrian army checkpoint.

Italy won't return two marines to India

NEW DELHI, March 12 (UPI) -- Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Tuesday called unacceptable Italy's refusal to send two marines back to India to stand trial for killing two fisherman.

Lawmakers said Singh told them he would ask his external affairs minister to take up the issue with the Italian government, the Press Trust of India reported.

Marines Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone face charges in the 2012 deaths of two fisherman they mistook for pirates off the Kerala coast.

They returned to Italy to vote in last month's special election after receiving special permission from India's Supreme Court.

The Italian Foreign Ministry said India has not responded to its requests to seek a diplomatic solution and a formal dispute now exists between the two countries under the U.N.'s Law of the Sea Convention.

Smoke, not texts, still announce pope vote

VATICAN CITY, March 12 (UPI) -- The technologically advanced Vatican will still use swirling smoke to announce if a new pope is elected, a spokesman said as the conclave was to begin Tuesday.

"For a church that has made much progress in the area of modern communications, computer technology, Internet and Twitter, the conclave still relies on smoke signals to let the world know of its results," the Rev. Thomas Rosica told The Washington Post before 115 cardinal-electors moved early Tuesday into unadorned rooms of the Vatican's Santa Marta guest residence, where they will sleep, sequestered, during the papal conclave.

Cardinals were assigned rooms randomly to discourage the forging of blocs in living quarters, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The cardinals at 10 a.m. (5 a.m. EDT) were expected to celebrate a public mass in St. Peter's Basilica dedicated to the pope's election.

The service was to be the last public event featuring the cardinals who will choose the new spiritual leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.

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