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WASHINGTON (AP) -- The number of people seeking unemployment benefits fell by 27,000 last week, an indication that hiring could improve. The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly applications dropped to a seasonally adjusted 341,000, the lowest level in three weeks. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, ticked up to 352,500 from a five-year low of 351,000 the previous week.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Outgoing Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue has some parting shots for Congress, the White House and advocates for seniors. They have all "really walked away from Social Security," he says, leaving the program "fraying because of inattention to its problems." Instead of making the hard choices to fix Social Security's financial problems, policymakers "use it as a tool of political rhetoric," Astrue said.
MST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Supporters of gay marriage in Minnesota are holding a Valentine's Day rally at the Capitol as they start a push for its legalization by the Legislature. Organizers of what they're calling the "Freedom to Marry" rally say they expect 1,500 to 2,000 supporters in the Capitol rotunda Thursday afternoon.
DALLAS (AP) -- American Airlines and US Airways have agreed to merge in an $11 billion deal that would create the world's biggest airline. The combined carrier will be called American Airlines and be based in Fort Worth, but US Airways CEO Doug Parker will run it. The merger would reduce the number of major U.S. airlines to four: the new American, United, Delta and Southwest.
PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) -- Paralympic superstar Oscar Pistorius was charged Thursday with the murder of his girlfriend who was shot inside his home in South Africa, a stunning development in the life of a national hero known as the Blade Runner for his high-tech artificial legs. Reeva Steenkamp, a model who spoke out on Twitter against rape and abuse of women, was shot four times in the predawn hours in the home, in a gated community in the capital, Pretoria, police said.
ST. PAUL — Leaning into friendlier political terrain, a union for Minnesota nurses renewed its call Wednesday for state lawmakers to establish requirements that would dictate how hospitals staff their emergency rooms, childbirth wards and other units.
MINNEAPOLIS — Al Jefferson had 20 points and 11 rebounds and Paul Millsap scored 21 points to power the Utah Jazz to a 97-93 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night. Jefferson helped the Jazz overcome a sluggish start against his former team to pick up a rare road win against a Western Conference opponent. The Jazz now have four wins in 17 road games in the West. Derrick Williams had 24 points and a career-high 16 rebounds and Ricky Rubio had 18 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds for the Timberwolves, who shot a season-low 34 percent.
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Vikings and coach Leslie Frazier have reached agreement on a multi-year contract extension. Two people with knowledge of the deal tell The Associated Press the two sides came to the agreement this week, following a season in which Frazier led the Vikings to a surprising 10-6 record and a playoff berth. Both spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal has not been announced and terms were not immediately known.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Republicans charged Wednesday that President Barack Obama delivered a State of the Union address studded with tired liberal notions and campaign-style hostility and said the speech did little to ease partisan tensions over issues like gigantic budget deficits. "An opportunity to bring together the country instead became another retread of lip service and liberalism," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on the chamber floor, arguing that Obama offered little more than "gimmicks and tax hikes."
WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. companies restocked their store shelves and warehouses at a slower pace in December, a sign of caution as sales weakened. Slower restocking was a major drag on the economy in the final three months of last year. Business inventories ticked up 0.1 percent in December from November, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. That was below the 0.2 percent pace the previous month and the smallest increase since last June.