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PARIS (AP) â¿¿ The bloody three-day hostage standoff at a natural gas plant in the Sahara took a dramatic turn Friday as Algeria's state news service reported that nearly 100 of the 132 foreign workers kidnapped by Islamic militants had been freed.

That number of hostages at the remote desert facility was significantly higher than any previous report, but it still left questions about the fate of over 30 other foreign energy workers. It wasn't clear how the government arrived at the latest tally of hostages, which was far higher than the 41 foreigners the militants had claimed previously.

Algeria's state news agency also reported late Friday that a "provisional toll" shows 12 hostages have been killed since the start of the Algerian military operation to free workers kidnapped by militants at the plant. The APS news agency quoted an unidentified security source for the new death toll and said the fatalities include both Algerian and foreign workers.

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Jobless rates fall in less than half of US states

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ Unemployment rates fell in less than half of U.S. states last month, as steady but slow hiring is making gradual improvement in the job market.

The Labor Department said Friday that rates fell in 22 states in December and rose in 16. They were unchanged in 12.

The department's monthly report also shows that steady hiring nationwide in the past two years has lowered the unemployment rate in many parts of the country. The rate is now below 7 percent in 25 states. And some of the states hardest hit in the recession have seen solid gains.

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By The Associated Press(equals)

The Dow Jones industrial average gained 53.68 points to end at 13,649.70. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 5.04 points to 1,485.98, while the Nasdaq composite fell 1.29 points to 3,134.71.

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