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US adds 288,000 jobs and unemployment dips to 6.1 pct. as economy moves closer to full health

WASHINGTON — The 5-year-old U.S. recovery is gaining momentum from a surprisingly robust job market and moving the economy closer to full health.

Employers added 288,000 jobs in June and helped cut the unemployment rate from 6.3 percent to 6.1 percent, the lowest since 2008. It was the fifth straight monthly gain above 200,000 — the best such stretch since the late 1990s tech boom.

The stock market signaled its approval. The Dow Jones industrial average surged 92 points to top 17,000 for the first time.

The breadth and consistency of the job growth are striking in part because of how poorly the year began. The economy shrank at a steep 2.9 percent annual rate in the January-March quarter as a harsh winter contributed to the sharpest contraction since the depths of the recession.

Yet employers have shrugged off that setback. They've kept hiring.


Pyrotechnics, parades, pigging out: Americans mark July Fourth despite East Coast storm

The United States marks 238 years as an independent nation as it celebrates the Fourth of July with fireworks, food and music. Here are some highlights:

HISTORY

The Fourth of July commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, by the Second Continental Congress of the 13 colonies, meeting in Philadelphia. The tradition of celebrating July Fourth with fireworks, parades and speeches spread from Philadelphia to other cities and towns across the new nation. Congress established Independence Day as a holiday in 1870.

FIRE IN THE SKY

The Macy's Fourth of July fireworks show in New York City is the nation's largest. Macy's says more than 1,600 shells will be launched per minute during the 25-minute display over the East River. Other major fireworks shows include those in Chicago on Lake Michigan and in San Francisco over the San Francisco Bay.


Arthur bears down on North Carolina coast before tracking north along US Eastern Seaboard

KILL DEVIL HILLS, North Carolina — Hurricane Arthur began moving offshore and away from North Carolina's Outer Banks early Friday after slashing into the state's barrier islands overnight.

Arthur strengthened to a Category 2 storm with winds of 100 mph Thursday evening before passing over the southern end of the Outer Banks — a 200-mile string of narrow barrier islands with about 57,000 permanent residents. The islands are susceptible to high winds, rough seas and road-clogging sands, prompting an exodus that began Wednesday night.

The storm was moving northeast early Friday after turning slightly west late Thursday, which increased the threat to mainland communities from flooding, tornadoes and intense winds.

"We're most concerned about flooding inland and also storm surges in our sounds and our rivers further inland," North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory said. An evaluation of storm damage would have to wait until after the sun rose Friday, McCrory said.

About 22,000 were without power across the Carolinas early Friday, according to Duke Energy's website.


Southern California city becomes latest flashpoint in escalating immigration debate

LOS ANGELES — When American flag-waving protesters forced busloads of migrants to leave Murrieta earlier this week, the Southern California city became the latest flashpoint in an intensifying immigration debate that could heat up even more as patriotism surges on the Fourth of July.

The city's mayor has become a hero to those seeking stronger immigration policies with his criticism of the federal government's efforts to handle the thousands of immigrants, many of them mothers and children, who have flooded the Texas border.

Some of those immigrants were flown to California and were supposed to be processed at a Border Patrol facility in Murrieta, a fast-growing community in the conservative-leaning Inland Empire region. But protesters blocked the road, forcing federal officials to take the immigrants elsewhere.

A second protest is planned for July 4, when another convoy of buses with immigrants is rumored to arrive.

"We've had it," said Carol Schlaepfer, a retired Pomona resident who protested Tuesday in Murrieta. "We all want a better life. ... You can't come to our country and expect American citizens to dole out what you need, from grade school till death."


Rebel leader Joseph Kony remains "like a myth" to his fighters; complicates jungle hunt

NZACKO, Central African Republic — The African troops hoped the latest defector from the Lord's Resistance Army rebel group would have fresh insight into the location of infamous warlord Joseph Kony.

But Sam Opio, a senior rebel commander who defected last week, shook his head and said he hadn't seen rebel leader Kony since 2010.

He is not alone. All recent defectors have denied seeing or communicating with Kony in the last few years, complicating the work of U.S.-backed Ugandan troops who are hunting down rebels in the dense, often-impenetrable jungles of Central Africa that cover the size of France. An Associated Press reporter recently trailed soldiers tracking a small group of rebels.

Ugandan commanders lead the chase for Kony, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court over many atrocities, from Obo, a tactical base set up in the middle of a sprawling bush in the southeastern part of Central African Republic. Their mandate — to kill or capture Kony —sets a high bar for foot soldiers who may also be at a disadvantage against a man who has spent all of his adult life in the bush.

"He's like a myth," Ugandan Lt. Col. John Kagwisa, the intelligence officer for military operations against the rebels, said of Kony. "His (fighters) see him as some kind of god, their spiritual god. They say that Kony can see what you're doing in the bush even if you're many miles away."


Supreme Court ruling aside, free birth control becomes norm for women with private coverage

WASHINGTON — More than half of privately insured women are getting free birth control under President Barack Obama's health law, a major coverage shift that's likely to advance.

This week the Supreme Court allowed some employers with religious scruples to opt out, but most companies appear to be going in the opposite direction.

Recent data from the IMS Institute document a sharp change during 2013. The share of privately insured women who got their birth control pills without a copayment jumped to 56 percent, from 14 percent in 2012. The law's requirement that most health plans cover birth control as prevention, at no additional cost to women, took full effect in 2013.

The average annual saving for women was $269. "It's a big number," said institute director Michael Kleinrock. The institute is the research arm of IMS Health, a Connecticut-based technology company that uses pharmacy records to track prescription drug sales.

The core of Obama's law — taxpayer-subsidized coverage for the uninsured — benefits a relatively small share of Americans. But free preventive care— from flu shots to colonoscopies —is a dividend of sorts for the majority with employer coverage.


Iraqi airstrikes target Sunni militants around oil refinery and near Syrian border

BAGHDAD — A spokesman for Iraqi counterterrorism forces says government airstrikes have targeted a group of Sunni militants trying to overrun the country's largest oil refinery, and claims as many as 30 insurgents were killed.

Sabah al-Nuaman says a government plane targeted around eight vehicles attacking military forces defending the Beiji oil refinery north of Baghdad early Friday. Fighters from the Islamic State extremist group have been trying to capture the Beiji facility from some two weeks.

Al-Nuaman also says a helicopter gunship hit a house in the town of Qaim near the Syrian border where a gathering of the jihadi group's local leaders was taking place. He says there were several casualties, but did not have a concrete figure.

An official in the Anbar province operational command confirmed the Qaim airstrike.


Forget positive job numbers; politicians swap blame, hedge bets heading into midterm elections

WASHINGTON — The top jobs numbers for June would have seemed to be cause for some appreciation. After all, the unemployment rate dipped to 6.1 percent, the lowest in six years, and hiring showed five months of steady growth.

But the public continues to perceive the economy as poor.

So, heading into a midterm campaign season, the politicians on Thursday hedged their bets and pointed fingers.

"In the voting booth, economic perception beats economic statistics every time," Republican pollster Whit Ayres said.

Indeed, after five months of steady job growth and after hitting a six-year low in unemployment, the reaction in Washington Thursday was a collective, "Yeah, but ..."


AP PHOTOS: Over 9,000 new citizens to be sworn in over the July 4 holiday week around the US

The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service is swearing in over 9,000 new citizens over the Fourth of July holiday week in ceremonies held around the country.


Follow AP photographers and photo editors on Twitter: http://apne.ws/XZy6ny


Putin tells Obama he wants better relations in Independence Day message

MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin has told Barack Obama in an Independence Day message that he hopes the countries can improve relations.

In a statement published on the Kremlin website on Friday, Putin said "regardless of difficulties and disagreements" he hoped that Russia and the U.S. could "successfully develop relations on pragmatic and equal grounds."

Relations between Russia and the U.S. have deteriorated as the two countries have struggled to find common ground in Ukraine, where Russia annexed the Black Sea region of Crimea in March and a conflict in the east of the country has claimed over 400 lives.

The United States reacted by imposing sanctions on some of Putin's associates, and has threatened to take further action.

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