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US adds a strong 379,000 jobs in hopeful sign for economy

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. employers added a robust 379,000 jobs last month, the most since October and a sign that the economy is strengthening as confirmed viral cases drop, consumers spend more and states and cities ease business restrictions. The February gain marked a pickup from the 166,000 jobs added in January and a loss of 306,000 in December. Yet it represents just a fraction of the 10 million jobs that were lost to the pandemic. The unemployment rate fell to 6.2%, the Labor Department said Friday in its monthly jobs report.

AP-US-VIRUS-OUTBREAK-CONGRESS

Senate nears relief bill votes after half-day GOP delay

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate is steering toward a voting marathon on Democrats’ $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill that’s expected to end with the chamber’s approval of the measure. That comes after a Republican foe of President Joe Biden’s top legislative priority forced an extraordinary half-day holdup on the bill. Moments after the Senate took up the legislation Thursday, Wisconsin GOP Sen. Ron Johnson forced the chamber’s clerks to read aloud the entire 628-page measure. The exhausting task took 10 hours and 44 minutes and ended shortly after 2 a.m. EST Friday. The chamber planned to begin voting around midday on a mountain of amendments.

AP POLL-BIDEN

AP-NORC poll: Americans largely back Biden’s virus response

WASHINGTON (AP) — Joe Biden is enjoying an early presidential honeymoon, with 60% of Americans approving of his job performance and even more backing his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. That’s according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Support for Biden’s pandemic response extends across party lines. Overall, 70% of Americans back his handling of the virus response, including 44% of Republicans. Still, the Democratic president faces more skepticism from Americans on the economy. Fifty-five percent of Americans approve of Biden’s approach to the economy, and 63% say the U.S. economy is in poor shape.

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Reports: NY officials altered count of nursing home deaths

NEW YORK (AP) — The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times report that the true number of people who had died in nursing homes in New York was altered by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top aides in a July state Health Department report. The newspapers cited documents and anonymous sources in reporting the aides pushed state health officials to alter the public report so only residents who died inside long-term care facilities, and not those who became ill there and later died at a hospital, were counted. It’s the latest blow for Cuomo, who’s been besieged by a one-two punch of scandals involving his handling of nursing home deaths and accusations of sexual harassment.

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The Latest: Pope Francis calls on Iraq to embrace diversity

BAGHDAD (AP) — Pope Francis is urging Iraqis to value their religious minorities and consider them a “precious resource” to protect. Francis has spoken as he was opening opened the first-ever papal visit to Iraq at a gathering with President Barham Salih and other Iraqi authorities at a palace in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone. Francis says Iraqis of all faiths deserve to have the same rights and protections as the Shiite Muslim majority. Despite the coronavirus pandemic and security concerns, Francis came to Iraq to give a boost to the country’s dwindling Christian community, who were violently persecuted by the Islamic State group and face continued discrimination by the Shiite Muslim majority.

SWITZERLAND-FACE COVERINGS

Swiss mull ‘burqa ban’ in vote centering on security, rights

GENEVA (AP) — At a time when seemingly everyone in Europe is wearing masks to battle COVID-19, the Swiss go to the polls Sunday to vote on a long-laid proposal to ban face coverings, both the niqabs and burqas worn by a few Muslim women and the ski masks and bandannas used by protesters. The issue strikes at the intersection of religious freedom, security, the economy and women’s rights. It is one of three national ballots in the vote, the latest installment of regular Swiss referendums that give voters a direct say in policymaking.

MYANMAR

YouTube removes Myanmar army channels; UN to meet on crisis

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — YouTube says it has removed five channels run by Myanmar’s military for violating its guidelines, as demonstrators defy growing violence by security forces and stage more anti-coup protests ahead of a special U.N. Security Council meeting on the country’s political crisis. YouTube says it is watching for any further content that might violate its rules. It earlier pulled dozens of channels as part of an investigation into content uploaded in a coordinated influence campaign. The escalation of violence by security forces has put pressure on the world community to act to restrain the junta, which seized power on Feb. 1 by ousting the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.

CAPITOL BREACH-THREAT

Capitol Police chief appeals for National Guard to stay

WASHINGTON (AP) — The threat to the Capitol still has police on edge. The acting chief of the U.S. Capitol Police is appealing to congressional leaders to back her request to keep National Guard troops protecting the building and lawmakers for another two months. Acting Chief Yogananda Pittman told congressional leaders in a letter obtained by The Associated Press she needed their assistance with the three-member Capitol Police Board, which oversees her department and reports to those House and Senate leaders. Her letter underscores the confusion over how best to secure the Capitol after a dismal lack of protection on Jan. 6. Authorities were on high alert Thursday after warnings of a new plot to attack the Capitol, but all was quiet.

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St. Louis-area mom, 2 children killed; baby taken, but safe

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Police say a man fatally shot a woman and two of her young children in a suburban St. Louis home before leaving with their baby, who was later found safe. Police say the killings happened late Thursday night in north St. Louis County and the suspect was being sought Friday. Officers discovered a 34-year-old woman, her 13-year-old son and her 6-year-old daughter all fatally shot inside the home where they lived. Police found that a 1-year-old girl was missing from the home and believe she was taken by her father, 35-year-old Bobby McCulley III. An Amber Alert was issued hours later for the baby, who was found safe with family members just before 5 a.m. Friday. Police are still searching for McCulley.

GEORGE-FLOYD-SECURITY

$1M for Minneapolis fences, barricades for Floyd death trial

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minneapolis and Hennepin County officials will spend at least $1 million to put up fences and other barricades ahead of the trial for the former officer charged with murder in the death of George Floyd. Minneapolis officials estimate $645,000 will be spent to protect the city’s five police precincts, City Hall and the Public Service Building. County officials say the initial cost for leasing and installing barriers around the Hennepin County Government Center, where Derek Chauvin’s trial begins Monday, is about $420,000. Some have criticized security efforts, fearing it will only escalate tensions. Others want local leaders to do everything they can to prevent a repeat of last year’s violent protests.

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