By Steve Holland WASHINGTON (Reuters) - South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham on Thursday formed a political organization to explore a potential run for his party's presidential nomination, the latest high-profile politician to test the 2016 waters. Graham would figure to use his South Carolina home base to his advantage for any potential run, since the Southern state is typically the third to hold a nominating contest in presidential election years, after Iowa and New Hampshire. Graham is a hawk on defense and foreign policy, generally aligned with Senator John McCain, one of his best friends. He joins a list of more than a 15 Republicans who are thinking about running for president, a group that includes 2012 nominee Mitt Romney and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.
New claims for US unemployment insurance benefits plunged to the lowest level in nearly 15 years last week, the Labor Department reported Thursday. Initial jobless claims, a sign of the pace of layoffs, dropped to a seasonally adjusted 265,000 in the week ending January 24, a hefty decline of 43,000 from the prior week's slightly upwardly revised level of 308,000. It was the lowest level for initial claims since mid-April 2000. The Labor Department said there was no particular factor influencing the week's claims data, which is often volatile.
By Tom Miles and Stephanie Nebehay GENEVA (Reuters) - The number of new confirmed Ebola cases totaled 99 in the week to Jan. 25, the lowest tally since June 2014, the World Health Organization said on Thursday, signaling the tide might have turned against the epidemic. "The response to the EVD (Ebola virus disease) epidemic has now moved to a second phase, as the focus shifts from slowing transmission to ending the epidemic," the WHO said. "To achieve this goal as quickly as possible, efforts have moved from rapidly building infrastructure to ensuring that capacity for case finding, case management, safe burials, and community engagement is used as effectively as possible." The outbreak has killed 8,810 people out of 22,092 known cases, almost all of them in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. Cases and deaths have fallen rapidly in Liberia and Sierra Leone in the past few weeks, with just 20 deaths recorded in Liberia in the 21 days to Jan. 25.
Malaysia declared on Thursday the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 an accident, clearing the way for the airline to pay compensation to victims' relatives while the search for the plane goes on. "We officially declare Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 an accident ... and that all 239 of the passengers and crew onboard MH370 are presumed to have lost their lives," Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) director-general Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said in a statement. The announcement is in accordance with standards of annexes 12 and 13 in the International Civil Aviation, said Azharuddin. It will allow families of the passengers to obtain assistance through compensation, he said.
By Julie Steenhuysen ATLANTA (Reuters) - The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has introduced camera monitoring of workers in its highest-level biosafety laboratories as it seeks to restore public faith in its procedures after a series of mishaps, agency officials tell Reuters. The mishaps have raised major questions over safety practices at more than 1,000 laboratory and support facilities that make up the CDC, whose role is to monitor and prevent outbreaks of disease. The move to monitor workers will allow lab directors and senior scientists to ensure they have followed safety protocols exactly, Leslie Dauphin, interim director of laboratory safety, told Reuters in an interview. "That is what the camera system helps with." The agency is expected to release details within a week of its own investigation into the Ebola mishap.
A meeting aimed at easing tensions between blacks and police in St. Louis erupted into a brawl on Wednesday night, underscoring the ongoing anger that persists in the area after the August police killing of an unarmed black teen. The meeting, held at St. Louis City Hall by the Public Safety Committee of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen, was focused on seeking public comment for how and why a proposed civilian review board should provide oversight for police. A police union official who was wearing a wristband supporting Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson further antagonized some in the crowd, according to the reports. Wilson shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson on Aug. 9.
(Reuters) - Dartmouth College will ban hard alcohol on campus as it seeks to cut down on binge drinking among students, the Ivy League school's president said on Thursday. The ban, which applies to students and all college-sponsored events, comes at a time when universities across the United States are trying to fight what the White House has described as an "epidemic" of sexual assault. The Hanover, New Hampshire, college is among the more than 50 elite U.S. learning institutions that the Department of Education is investigating to see if their policies on sex assault violate U.S. laws requiring equal treatment for men and women in higher education. Researchers say the culture of binge drinking on college campuses has fueled sex assaults.
The French co-pilot was at the controls of an AirAsia plane before it crashed into the sea last month after flying through an area of towering clouds, killing all 162 people on board, investigators said Thursday. The announcement came as fishermen found two more bodies from the crash in waters off Sulawesi island in central Indonesia, around 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) from where the plane crashed, a search and rescue official said. On Thursday, Indonesia's National Transportation Safety Committee, which has been analysing the plane's black boxes, said that prior to the crash, the aircraft had climbed fast in an area packed with huge storm clouds, and the stall alarms started going off. They also revealed that the Airbus A320-200's less experienced French co-pilot, Remi Plesel, was flying the plane before it went down, rather than Captain Iriyanto, a former fighter pilot who had around 20,000 hours of flying time.
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A bid to end Arkansas' practice of commemorating Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. on the same day was rejected by lawmakers Wednesday after opponents said the move would belittle Southern heritage.
By Thomas Grove MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia said on Wednesday military action by the Ukrainian government would prompt an "inevitable further escalation of the conflict" with pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine and undermine any peacemaking. Russia has stepped up criticism of Kiev since violence has intensified in the conflict, where a ceasefire collapsed after rebels drove Ukrainian government forces out of Donetsk airport. The separatists say they want to drive back government forces and their artillery out of range of the cities they hold and improve their grip on strongholds. "The latest military actions provoked by Kiev will lead to the inevitable further escalation of the conflict (and) undermine efforts taken by the international community to end the bloodshed," Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
An attack overnight in northern Mali by a pro-government armed group including suicide bombers killed a dozen people, security sources said Wednesday. "GATIA fighters, accompanied by suicide bombers, attacked a rebel Tuareg and anti-government Arab position in the night from Tuesday to Wednesday near the town of Tabankort. A security source in MINUSMA -- the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali -- confirmed the deaths, adding that two fighters blew themselves up while a third was killed before he was able to detonate his explosives. GATIA is the commonly-used name for the pro-government Imghad and Allies Tuareg Self-Defence Group.
Lebanese Hezbollah militants killed and wounded a number of Israeli soldiers in a "big operation" on Wednesday targeting an Israeli military convoy in a frontier area, a Lebanese political source said. The attack in the Israeli-occupied Shebaa Farms area was in response to an Israeli rocket attack in Syria, the source, who is familiar with details of the operation, said.
By Aruna Viswanatha and Julia Edwards WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Loretta Lynch, President Barack Obama's pick for attorney general, on Wednesday sought to make a clean break from the testy relationship her predecessor had with Congress, while supporting the legality of the administration's controversial actions on immigration. Lynch, a career prosecutor known for her diplomatic skills, struck a delicate balance during her confirmation hearing, telling the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, "I look forward to fostering a new and improved relationship." Her willingness to listen to Republican concerns was generally well received by the senators.