Friday, April 1, 2011

When the Swiss spaghetti trees are once again in bloom and Antarctica's penguins have completed their annual migration from the rain forest, it can only mean one thing; it's April Fools' Day.

Some of the world's leading corporations and media outlets today unleashed a series of ambitious and hysterical pranks on a suspecting but still gullible public.

There are plenty of hoaxes circulating the Internet today but, as always, there's also plenty of real news too wacky to be fake.

So here's today's challenge from the honest people at One of the following stories out today is true, the other four are pranks.

Your mission: Read the following stories and vote for the one you believe is true.

To learn which of these stories is true, tune in tonight to World News with Diane Sawyer or check back here after 7 p.m. ET.

1. Child-Free Flights. Discount Irish airline Ryanair, known for its creative promotions and cost-cutting measures, including coin-operated toilets, is offering flights free of screaming babies and unruly children. For a small premium, travelers can buy a seat on "child-free flights."

This week's American Idol performances were a remarkably consistent bunch. Nobody did a bad job of covering Elton John, at least not from the perspective of what they were trying to accomplish.

Similarly, the studio recordings have a similarly high level of quality. In fact, I don't think any of them are worse than what we saw from the finalists Wednesday.


Haley Reinhart, Bennie and the Jets. Haley's cabaret-pop take on John's 1974 glam-fan tribute works even better here. If people who don't generally like Haley wonder why this performance seems to work so much better than her usual fare, it's because the song gives her an appropriate place for all her vocal idiosyncrasies: That woozy slide she likes so much works great on the verses, the melody lets her leap around to her heart's content, and that growl of hers sounds just perfect whenever she exclaims, "Bennie! Bennie!" Sure, she exaggerates the sibilant syllables and the stuttering "B-b-b-bennie" -- but since when is exaggeration in the name of Elton John considered a musical crime?

Paul McDonald, Rocket Man. I don't remember much about the instrumentation on Paul's performance Wednesday, but it's a big part of what makes this track work: a steady tap of drumsticks on hi-hat; a chiming sound that seems like part electric piano, part pedal steel; an eerie, spacious distortion that lurks, shadow-like, throughout the track. At one point, everything drops away, leaving only the echo of Paul's whispery rasp, floating weightless.

Lindsay Lohan during the nuclear argument she had with Betty Ford staffer Dawn Holland -- an argument Holland says turned violent.

It all went down on December 12, when the staffer -- Dawn Holland -- claims she busted Lindsay and two other girls jumping a wall at Betty Ford at around 1 AM. -- after curfew. During the 911 call, Lindsay and Dawn were both on the line on separate phones. Lindsay says, "She's freaking me out!"

When Dawn tried to make Lindsay take a breathalyzer, she says "Lindsay Lohan pushed me and hit me with the phone." Dawn claims she knows the other two girls Lindsay was with were drunk, "reeking of alcohol."

During the call, Dawn claims she grabbed the phone to talk to the dispatcher ... but Lindsay ripped the phone from her hand ... spraining Dawn's wrist in the process.

As we first reported, the Riverside County District Attorney declined to prosecute Lindsay over the incident.
The founder of the security firm once known as Blackwater questions how federal authorities handled their investigation of an infamous Baghdad shooting that left 17 Iraqis dead.

Erik Prince says in a sworn deposition reviewed by The Associated Press this week that he didn't think the FBI fully investigated the sources of all the used bullets. He says it seemed the ballistics analysis was done to try and prove the guilt of the Americans instead.

An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment on Prince's statements.

Five of the men involved were initially charged with manslaughter over the shooting, but a judge dismissed those charges.

Prince was deposed last year as part of a lawsuit alleging that his company had a pattern of using excessive force.

Japanese and U.S. military ships and helicopters trolled Japan's tsunami-ravaged coastline looking for bodies Friday, part of an all-out search that could be the last chance to find those swept out to sea nearly three weeks ago.

More than 16,000 are still missing after the disaster, which officials fear may have killed some 25,000 people. The 9.0-earthquake and tsunami also ravaged a nuclear plant that continues to leak radiation despite frantic efforts to control it.

Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan sounded a resolute note Friday, promising to win the battle against the overheating plant even as atomic safety officials raised questions about the accuracy of radiation measurements there. Residents have been evacuated from around the plant.

On the outskirts of Sendai, near the Japanese military's Kasuminome air base, a constant stream of helicopters roared overhead throughout the afternoon, shuttling to and from the more remote coastal regions. Planes and boats were dispatched from other bases near the city.

Altogether, 25,000 soldiers, 120 helicopters, and 65 ships will continue searching through Sunday. If U.S. forces spot bodies, they will point them out to the Japanese military rather than trying to retrieve them. So far, more than 11,700 deaths have been confirmed.

Six Israeli lawmakers are headed to the United States this weekend to learn more about the American Jewish community.

The visit to Brandeis University and New York City, starting Sunday, comes amid concerns about a growing gap between American and Israeli Jews.

The six-day Ruderman Fellows Program aims to give the legislators a detailed understanding of the structure and history of the American Jewish community.

The packed schedule includes meetings with American Jewish leaders in areas such as academics, business and philanthropy.

Program officials say Israeli Jews sometimes don't understand the communities' differences, such as the diversity in American Jewish life and practice.

Program founder Jay Ruderman says more understanding among Israeli leaders can ensure differences don't harden into divides. He says that would severely damage the small global Jewish community.

Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan’s president, on Friday asked the supreme court to review the controversial death sentence which led to the 1979 hanging of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who was prime minister and father of his late wife.

Analysts warned that the case could reopen old divisions in a country which has hovered between periods of military rule and short-lived democracies, and is struggling to unite in the face of an islamist insurgency.

Leaders of Mr Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) said he may be seeking to strengthen his position as leader of the PPP, founded by the late Mr Bhutto. Many PPP activists were imprisoned and tortured in a well-documented reign of terror unleashed during General Zia ul-Haq’s eleven-year military dictatorship.

After Mr Bhutto’s hanging, he PPP was led by Benazir Bhutto, Mr Bhutto’s elder daughter who went on to marry Mr Zardari in 1987. Ms Bhutto was assassinated in a terrorist attack in December 2007.

“There is a historic wrong which we are trying to set right. There is no other purpose behind this decision” said Farhatullah Babar, Mr Zardari’s spokesman. But analysts warned that reopening the controversial case will expose the divisions that ran deep in the past.

Seven foreign UN workers were killed Friday in Afghanistan by protesters angered by a Koran burning in the United States, the provincial governor said, in what appeared to be the deadliest attack on the United Nations there since the 2001 invasion.

"Seven UNAMA employees have been killed, out of which five are Nepalese and two others are Europeans, one woman and one man," Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor said, referring to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.

Five protesters also died in the unrest in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, and 20 were injured, the governor told reporters. At least 20 were arrested over the attack, which was claimed by the Taliban.
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US President Barack Obama condemned the attack "in the strongest possible terms", while UN chief Ban Ki-Moon called it "outrageous and cowardly".

Police had earlier placed the death toll at 11 and said eight foreign UN workers were killed. The UN has not confirmed the toll, which would make it the most deadly violence against the UN in Afghanistan since the US-led invasion.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the violence, saying it was the first step in a campaign against the upcoming presidential elections.

Accounts of the attack were contradictory but indicated the killings had been carried out in the style of executions. Local police spokesman Lal Mohammad Ahmadzai told AFP that "two of the killed UN staff were beheaded".

Ibadan once carried the hopes of postcolonial Africa on the shoulders of its rolling hills, the home of oil-rich Nigeria's first university and as one of the continent's most populous cities in 1960.

Now, the former stronghold of the Oyo kingdom is known for running street battles encouraged by local politicians hungry for power on the eve of crucial elections in Nigeria.

Voters will cast ballots Saturday on who should occupy seats in the country's National Assembly, positions worth more than $1 million in salaries and perks, not counting the power to subvert the billions of dollars in oil revenues the country earns each year.

But whether insecurity will force voters to abandon the polls or those votes will count in a nation where thuggery accompanies elections remains to be unseen.

Politicians "are not really there to serve the people; they want to serve themselves," said Idowu Johnson, a political science lecturer at the University of Ibadan. "The monetary attachments to the positions are why they want to kill themselves for it ... by any means. They are willing to sacrifice their own children."

Saturday's election is the start of three weeks of polls in Africa's most populous nation, home to 150 million people. An estimated 73.5 million voters also will pick a president for the nation and cast ballots in local elections.

President Goodluck Jonathan and the head of the country's Independent National Electoral Commission have promised to provide a free and fair election in a country where coups and military rulers served as the norm for decades. That promise comes against a history of flawed polls marred by violence and ballot box stuffing since the nation became a democracy in 1999.

Colm McCarthy tells it like it is. He's a respected economist at University College Dublin and although adviser both to the past and present governments, back slapping is not in his repertoire.

RTE's Morning Ireland got the usual dose of McCarthy smelling salts today and it made for depressing listening. A "holding position" and "finger in the dyke", he said. There was no one-shot solution to the crisis and we were nowhere near the end game.

His UCD economist colleague Professor Ray Kinsella was equally downbeat in the Examiner newspaper this morning.

In a column titled "Stumbling towards default", Kinsella explains it's all about market confidence and not really about the cash in the banks which could operate at much lower levels of capital reserve. The breathtaking losses at the Bank of Ireland and other Irish financial institutions will be confirmed by the Central Banks.

"What determines the amount of capital that banks need is the 'mind of the markets'. And what counts here is policy credibility and confidence. The terms of the EU/IMF bailout are not credible. There is no confidence," he said.

Rangers manager Walter Smith has called for the club's ownership issue to be resolved as soon as possible as Craig Whyte's takeover bid nears a conclusion.

Chairman Alastair Johnston revealed earlier on Friday that the Scottish champions expect to know one way or another what is happening with regards to the proposed buy-out in the next couple of days.

Smith now hopes a deal can be completed sooner rather than later.

He said: "It's crucial that the ownership aspect of the club gets settled as soon as it possibly can.

"We are in a situation where the club has been for sale for two-and-a-half, three years now.

"It's reached the stage just now where, when that gets sorted out, it will help bring back a bit of stability to the club and that's the most important thing."

For now, Smith is happy to focus on events on the field, adding: "It doesn't affect us that greatly on the footballing side of things.

"We just have to try and handle the situation, as we have done for the last two or three years.

NYSE Euronext Chief Operating Officer Larry Leibowitz did not appear before a U.S. House antitrust panel on Friday, just a few hours after Nasdaq OMX and IntercontinentalExchange made a rival bid to acquire the exchange.

The proposed $11.3 billion joint takeover of NYSE by Nasdaq and ICE would be a 19 percent premium to the offer made by German competitor Deutsche Boerse.

Leibowitz had planned in prepared remarks to tout the proposed merger between NYSE and Deutsche Boerse. But lawmakers said the competing offer complicated the hearing, and they hope to hold a hearing in the future when all the companies can attend.

"At this point it would not be appropriate to take testimony only from the New York Stock Exchange without hearing the other companies," said Bob Goodlatte, the Republican who chairs the panel.

Ranking subcommittee member Melvin Watt said he agreed it was appropriate to cancel the appearance by Leibowitz for now. But he voiced some concerns that any hearings ahead of the two possible deals might be premature.

"I have some reservations about whether it is this committee's or the government's role to start to access competing merger proposals or takeover proposals before there is a final agreement," Watt said.

Two of the dead were beheaded by attackers who also burned parts of the compound and climbed up blast walls to topple a guard tower, said Lal Mohammad Ahmadzai, a police spokesman for the northern region.

It is believed to be the deadliest ever attack on the UN in Afghanistan.

Over a thousand protesters had flooded into the streets of the normally peaceful city after Friday prayers to denounce the burning of Islam's holy book, the Koran, by a US pastor, and after two or three hours violence broke out.

Police fired into the air in an unsuccessful bid to control the crowd.

A United Nations spokesman confirmed employees had been killed but declined to comment on numbers of dead or their nationalities, saying reports from the scene were confusing.

Staffan De Mistura, the top UN diplomat in Afghanistan, has flown to Mazar-i-Sharif to handle the situation personally.

A police source, who declined to be named as he was not authorised to speak to the media, said protesters had stormed into the compound where they attacked the victims.

Japan's prime minister sounded a resolute note Friday, promising to win the battle against an overheating nuclear plant even as atomic safety officials raised questions about the accuracy of radiation measurements at the complex.

Naoto Kan was grave a week ago when he addressed this nation rattled by fears of radiation that has contaminated food, milk and tap water. But three weeks after a massive tsunami disabled a nuclear power plant's cooling systems, Kan vowed that Japan would create the safest system anywhere.

Japan will "do whatever it takes to win the battle" at Fukushima Dai-ichi, Kan said in a televised news conference. And when the crisis ends: "We will establish a system that could respond to any situation based on an assumption that anything could happen."

While a massive earthquake and tsunami set off a series of events that disabled the plant, the accident has been exacerbated by several missteps along the way. Apparently spotting another mistake Friday, the nuclear safety agency ordered the Tokyo Electric Power Co. to review its recent radiation figures, saying they seemed suspiciously high.

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TEPCO has repeatedly been forced to retract such figures, fueling fears over health risks and eroding confidence in the company's ability to respond effectively to the crisis.

A ruling from a federal labor board moves flight attendants at United and Continental airlines closer to an election to choose a single union.

United and Continental merged last year but their flight attendants are in different unions. On Friday, the National Mediation Board said the two airlines are acting as one for purposes of setting an election date to choose one union to represent the combined group. Right now, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA represents 15,000 workers at United, while the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers currently represents more than 9,000 flight attendants at Continental.

United Continental Holdings Inc. runs both airlines. Spokeswoman Julie King said the airline is pleased with the ruling. Eventually, both airlines will be merged into one called United Airlines.
The US government is warning people to stay out of giant, see-through inflatable spheres known as "water walking balls", because of the risk of suffocation or drowning.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CSPC) said that it "does not know of any safe way" to use the products, which are popular at amusement parks, resorts, malls and carnivals. They resemble hamster balls but are large enough for humans. People climb into the plastic, airtight balls and roll or try to walk on water in pools, lakes or rivers.

"We want to tell the public how dangerous these products are before someone is killed," said CSPC chairman, Inez Tenenbaum. "Our investigation into water walking balls will not stop with today's warning."

The commission is worried about too little oxygen in the balls, as well as the buildup of carbon dioxide. Another concern is the fact that the product has no emergency exit and can be opened only by a person outside of the ball – a serious problem if a person inside experiences distress.

The commission said it is aware of two incidents in which people were hurt. In the first, a five-year-old girl in Kingston, Massachusetts, passed out last year while inside a ball for a brief time. In the other, a young boy suffered a broken arm when the ball he was in fell out of a shallow above-ground pool onto hard ground.

  WASHINGTON — After staunchly defending the safety of artificial food colorings, the federal government is for the first time publicly reassessing whether foods like Jell-O, Lucky Charms cereal and Minute Maid Lemonade should carry warnings that the bright artificial colorings in them worsen behavior problems like hyperactivity in some children.

The Food and Drug Administration concluded long ago that there was no definitive link between the colorings and behavior or health problems, and the agency is unlikely to change its mind any time soon. But on Wednesday and Thursday, the F.D.A. will ask a panel of experts to review the evidence and advise on possible policy changes, which could include warning labels on food.

The hearings signal that the growing list of studies suggesting a link between artificial colorings and behavioral changes in children has at least gotten regulators’ attention — and, for consumer advocates, that in itself is a victory.

In a concluding report, staff scientists from the F.D.A. wrote that while typical children might be unaffected by the dyes, those with behavioral disorders might have their conditions “exacerbated by exposure to a number of substances in food, including, but not limited to, synthetic color additives.”

Renee Shutters, a mother of two from Jamestown, N.Y., said in a telephone interview on Tuesday that two years ago, her son Trenton, then 5, was having serious behavioral problems at school until she eliminated artificial food colorings from his diet. “I know for sure I found the root cause of this one because you can turn it on and off like a switch,” Ms. Shutters said.

But Dr. Lawrence Diller, a behavioral pediatrician in Walnut Creek, Calif., said evidence that diet plays a significant role in most childhood behavioral disorders was minimal to nonexistent. “These are urban legends that won’t die,” Dr. Diller said.

There is no debate about the safety of natural food colorings, and manufacturers have long defended the safety of artificial ones as well. In a statement, the Grocery Manufacturers Association said, “All of the major safety bodies globally have reviewed the available science and have determined that there is no demonstrable link between artificial food colors and hyperactivity among children.”

Lindsay Lohan attends a screening of the new film Source Code held at the Crosby Street Hotel on Thursday (March 31) in New York City.

The 24-year-old actress recently prompted speculation over whether she was drinking after she stumbled down the sidewalk outside the Motor City Bar.

Lindsay turned down the rumors on her Twitter by saying, “funny how making a joke can turn into…. well, me falling and a story..”

PORTLAND, Maine - An April Fools' storm brought heavy snowfall to parts of New England on Friday, creating a late-season winter wonderland that sent scores of cars sliding off roads, knocked out power for thousands and gave kids a surprise reprieve from school.

The spring Nor'easter packed a wallop as people awoke Friday — April Fools' Day — with wet, heavy snow quickly covering the pavement and clinging to trees, which drooped under the weight.

Falling tree limbs knocked out electricity for nearly 60,000 homes and businesses in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Rhode Island at the storm's peak, officials said. Scores of cars and trucks slid off roads, but there were no reports of serious injuries.

Brunswick Naval Air Station spokesman John Ripley gave himself permission to work from home after a failed attempt to drive to work on slippery I-295

"It was pretty dicey, to say the least," said Ripley, of Portland, who saw four vehicles off the highway and watched another fishtail before turning back.

Parts of Maine and New Hampshire were expected to see upward of a foot of snow, but the storm failed to live up to its billing elsewhere.

The CIA has small teams of operatives in Libya to gather intelligence to help the White House determine what type of assistance is required for the rebels battling Moammar Gadhafi's troops.

Battlefield setbacks are hardening the U.S. view that the poorly equipped opposition probably is incapable of prevailing without decisive Western intervention, a senior U.S. intelligence official told The Associated Press.

Lawmakers, in private briefings with top Obama administration officials, have been asking tough questions about the cost of the military operation and expressed concern about the makeup of the rebels.

"No decision has been made about providing arms to the opposition or to any groups in Libya," said White House press secretary Jay Carney Wednesday. "We're not ruling it out or ruling it in."

The CIA's precise role in Libya is not clear. Intelligence experts said the CIA operatives would have made contact with the opposition to assess the strength and needs of the rebel forces in the event U.S. President Barack Obama decides to arm them.

The nuclear crisis in Japan is evolving along the worst case scenario, says a Russian expert, commenting on reports that plutonium has been found in soil samples at the Fukushima nuclear plant.

“In all likelihood, fuel at the second reactor is melting and burning through the reactor containment and may get into the ocean and soil,” said Professor Vladimir Kuznetsov, member of the advisory board of Rosatom, Russia’s state nuclear monopoly.

The Tokyo Electric Power Company, operator of the Fukushima plant, said on Tuesday that low-risk levels of plutonium were found in some soil samples at the facility. Plutonium is used in the fuel mix in the Fukushima reactors. It is a highly carcinogenic substance that retains its killing capacity for thousands of years.

“The seeping of plutonium into soil and water is the most dangerous thing that can happen,” Prof. Kuznetsov told the Interfax wire service. “Ocean currents may carry it around the world, and nobody knows whether it ends up inside fish or on a beach.”

Adedapo, a 26-year-old from Milwaukee, WI, and Megia, a 16-year-old Mountain House, CA resident, became the third and fourth finalists sent home from American Idol's tenth season after they received the fewest home viewer votes following Wednesday night's performance show, which featured the Top 11 finalists performing Elton John songs.

"I originally planned on auditioning next year, but when I heard about the age reduction, I flew straight to Wisconsin. Throughout this whole experience, I've grown so much as a singer and as a person as well... The dream is never going to end. One way or another, singing is going to be my main thing for the rest of my life," Megia said during a video montage that followed her ouster.

"I auditioned because I basically felt like it would change my life. I feel like I was born a bright star. All I need is the ability to shine... American Idol has changed my life because it's given me the opportunity to show my children that they can live their dreams," Adedapo said during the video montage.

This week's American Idol results show featured a double elimination due to last week's utilization of "The Judges' Save," the one-time voting twist of the season that allowed the show's three judges -- Jennifer Lopez, Steven Tyler and Randy Jackson -- to unanimously decide to save Casey Abrams, a 20-year-old Wilmette, IL native who currently resides in Idyllwild, CA, from elimination at the conclusion of last week's results show.

Prostate cancer screening does not save lives, according to a 20-year study, published in the British Medical Journal.

One in four newly diagnosed cancers in UK men is prostate cancer.

Last year, the body which regulates screening in the UK advised against routine screening.

The UK National Screening Committee said this study provided further evidence that the harms outweigh the benefits.

Prostate cancer kills 10,000 people in the UK every year.

While there is no screening programme, men over 50 may still request a test.


This latest study was carried out in Norrkoping in Sweden. It followed 9,026 men who were in their 50s or 60s in 1987.
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Nearly 1,500 men were randomly chosen to be screened every three years between 1987 and 1996. The first two tests were performed by digital rectal examination and then by prostate specific antigen testing.

The report concludes: "After 20 years of follow-up, the rate of death from prostate cancer did not differ significantly between men in the screening group and those in the control group."

The favoured method of screening is the prostate specific antigen (PSA) test.

Android enthusiasts have long championed Google’s “open” philosophy towards the smartphone platform. The recent appearance of a new Trojan horse in unofficial Android app venues, however, may cause users to think twice about how open they want the platform to be.

The app in question, Android.Walkinwat, appears to be a free, pirated version of another app, “Walk and Text.” The real version is available for purchase in Google’s official Android Market for a low price ($1.54).

If you download the fake app (from unofficial markets for Android apps) and install it, it redirects you to the actual app on the Android marketplace — but in the background, it sends the following embarrassing message to your entire phonebook via SMS:

Hey,just downlaoded [sic] a pirated app off the internet, Walk and Text for Android. Im stupid and cheap, it costed only 1 buck.Dont steal like I did!

Egregious spelling and grammatical errors aside, the text message serves as a reminder of the risks to those willing to go outside of the official Market for apps.

“Someone downloaded the app, inserted their malware, and uploaded it onto other non-official marketplaces,” Symantec mobile team product manager John Engels told in an interview.

In other words, if you go outside the official Market, things may not be what they seem, and there’s no guarantee that what you download is what you actually want.

A national television audience got a chance to see Lamar Odom at his best Thursday night, to see the 6-10 Lakers forward change the momentum of the game, to see why he has emerged as one of the top candidates for the NBA's sixth man of the year award.

Odom had nine of his 16 points in the fourth quarter. He had four of his 11 rebounds and one of his three assists in the final quarter.

His play went a long way in helping the Lakers roll past the Dallas Mavericks, 110-82, in an ejection-filled, feisty, playoff-intensity game at Staples Center.

Before the game started, Odom needed 14 points to reach 12,000 for his career.

By doing so, Odom became just the 23rd player in NBA history to exceed 12,000 points, 7,000 rebounds and 3,000 assists.

"That's cool," Odom said. "Hopefully I can finish the season out and get that sixth man award."

You could almost detect a sense of pride from Lakers Coach Phil Jackson after the game.

"It was definitely a showcase for his sixth-man award," Jackson said.

Odom said it's an award he'd like to get so he can share it with the supportive Lakers fans, with his teammates, his family and all those who have been around through his "journey."

The dollar rose in New York after a closely followed report on U.S. jobs suggested the troubled labor market is recovering, but gave up much of its gains after comments from a central bank official tempered expectations for an interest-rate increase.

The Labor Department said the U.S. unemployment rate fell to a two-year low of 8.8 percent in March and 216,000 new jobs were added, more than economists had expected. The good news on jobs helped support expectations that the Federal Reserve might focus more on the threat of inflation, leading the central bank to raise interest rates sooner than had been thought. Higher rates tend to increase demand for the currency linked to that country or region.

But the dollar came off its highs of the day after William Dudley, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, said in a speech in Puerto Rico that the recent improvement in the economy was not a reason for the Fed to "reverse course" from its efforts to support the economy and that a "substantial pick-up" in job growth was "sorely needed."

In midday trading Friday, the euro traded at $1.4186 from $1.4201 late Thursday - it had fallen as low as $1.4060 earlier. The dollar retreated from 84.73 Japanese yen, the highest point since September 2010, to 84.25 yen, still up from 83.07 yen late Thursday. The British pound turned around, rising to $1.6074 from $1.6065.

ISLAMABAD: Sessions Judge Muhammad Aslam Gondal Thursday extended physical remand of Nabeel Ahmad who was allegedly involved in a bank fraud for further four days.

A First Information Report (FIR) vide 06/2011 PS/ FIA/ CBC was lodged on 24-03-11 against Ahmed under sections 419/420-PPC by Mubashir Ali Ahsan, an official at NIB Bank Ltd Islamabad. The accused hails from Gujranwala.

FIA arrested the accused on March 24 and produced before court on March 25. The court had already granted his physical remand twice to FIA. The agency recovered an amount of Rs 26,500 during these remands from him.

According to FIA, National Investment Bank (NIB) lodged a complaint with Director FIA Islamabad Zone claiming that on March 24, 2011, a customer Nabeel Ahmad came to China Chowk branch for issuance of pay order of Rs 60,000 at Gujranwala branch.

He signed the pay order application form and since he did not have the original CNIC the staff referred his case to branch manager, in the meantime Ahmed slipped the bank. Another customer with the same account, Muhammad Liaquat had already lodged a complaint with FIA Gujranwala branch that a pay order of Rs, 26,500 issued in the name of Ahmed by F-10 Markaz branch on March 18, 2011 without his knowledge.

The Pentagon is about to pull its attack planes out of the international air campaign in Libya, hoping NATO partners can take up the slack.

The announcement Thursday drew incredulous reactions from some in Congress who wondered aloud why the Obama administration would bow out of a key element of the strategy for protecting Libyan civilians and crippling Moammar Gadhafi's army.

"Odd," ''troubling" and "unnerving" were among critical comments by senators pressing for an explanation of the announcement by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs chairman Adm. Mike Mullen that American combat missions will end Saturday.

"Your timing is exquisite," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said sarcastically, alluding to Gadhafi's military advances this week and the planned halt to U.S. airstrikes. "I believe this would be a profound mistake with potentially disastrous consequences."

Gates and Mullen, in back-to-back appearances before the House and Senate armed services committees, also forcefully argued against putting the U.S. in the role of arming or training Libyan rebel forces, while suggesting it might be a job for Arab or other countries. The White House has said repeatedly that it has not ruled out arming the rebels, who have retreated pell-mell this week under the pressure of a renewed eastern offensive by Gadhafi's better-armed and better-trained ground troops.

An economist by profession, the western-educated Mr Ouattara has been a regular on the political scene for more than 20 years. Affectionately known as "Ado" by his supporters, he is widely seen as a hard-working politician who favours transparency.

Mr Ouattara was appointed prime minister by the Ivorian independent leader Felix Houphouet-Boigny in 1990, and charged with rescuing Ivory Coast's stagnant economy.

But Mr Ouattara was later barred from standing for the presidency, after allegations surfaced over his nationality. In 1995, a court ruled that his mother was from neighbouring Burkina Faso, although he insists both his parents are Ivorian.

Laurent Gbagbo, Mr Ouattara's old nemesis who is now clings to power, used the "outsider" taint to exploit tensions over the West African country's large population of economic migrants, and positioned himself as a nationalist fighting the outsiders.

While Mr Ouattara is a Muslim from the country's north, where most foreign migrants live, Mr Gbagbo is a Christian from the country's south.

Mr Ouattara was born in Dimbokro in the central Ivory Coast but did most of his schooling and worked as an adult in Burkina Faso, feeding the debate about his identity.

He earned a doctorate in economics in the United States 1967 and worked as both Africa Director of the International Monetary Fund and as governor of the regional Central Bank of West African State.

Improvements in the job market may finally be taking hold, as strong business hiring last month brought the unemployment rate down to its lowest level in two years.

The economy gained 216,000 jobs in the month. That's better than the gain of 180,000 predicted by economists surveyed by CNNMoney, and also a significant improvement over the 194,000 jobs added in February.

"Almost two years after the recession officially ended, the labor market appears to finally be picking up," said Kathy Bostjancic, director of macroeconomic analysis for The Conference Board.

The unemployment rate continued to edge down, dropping to 8.8%, the lowest level since March 2009. The unemployment rate has shed a full percentage point in the last four months, the largest four-month drop since 1984.

"The unemployment rate has broken through the sound barrier and is continuing to decline," said Sung Won Sohn, economics professor at Cal State Channel Islands. "The recovery in employment is here to stay."

While the payroll numbers are compiled from a survey of employers, the unemployment rate is determined by a separate survey of workers, which also showed significant improvement.

The UN mission in Afghanistan has been thrown into a deep crisis after a furious mob of protesters killed and wounded a number of its staff in one of the country's most peaceful cities.

One police source in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif claimed at least eight foreign UN employees were killed after a demonstration in the thriving commercial hub turned violent. Other officials reported different figures.

Provincial police spokesman Sherjan Durrani said the demonstrators poured out of mosques in the city in the early afternoon, shortly after Friday prayers where worshippers had been angered by reports that a Florida pastor had burned a copy of the Qur'an.

Last year Terry Jones, a US fundamentalist Christian leader, did threaten to burn copies of the Muslim holy book. He backed down after warnings that Islamic opinion around the world could be inflamed and the lives of US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq endangered.

But on 21 March Wayne Sapp set light to a Qur'an with Jones standing by.

Durrani said that while most protesters were peaceful, others were seeking targets to attack, including shops and the UN compound.