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Retail sales rose a better-than-expected 0.5 percent in July, the Commerce Department said yesterday.... The government reported the number of Americans filing unemployment claims stood at 403,000 for the week ending Aug. 1, a drop of 66,000 from the previous week, when it surged by 69,000. Analysts said the wide swings were the result of a company-wide shutdown by General Motors.... Consumer prices edged up by only 0.1 percent in July, the Labor Department said yesterday. So far this year, prices are ri sing at an annual rate of 2.9 percent.... Interfax news agency said yesterday Russia will raise the minimum rate for import duties from 5 percent to 15 percent on Sept. 1. Russia imposed import taxes July 1.... Japan's trade surplus swelled last month to a record $9.24 billion for July. Economists said Japan's sluggish demand for imports, rather than an export drive, is the cause. UNITED STATES

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In Senate committee testimony, three current or former officials said Wednesday US Vietnam War veterans still could be alive in Southeast Asia but there is no evidence any are being held prisoner.... Laurance Rockefeller, a millionaire and environmental lawyer who tried to force Sen. Alfonse D'Amato into a Republican primary, was disqualified from the New York ballot Wednesday for failing to file enough petition signatures. He is challenging the ruling in federal court.... The House voted Wednesday to li mit the ability of United Airlines and American Airlines to dominate the airline industry through their computerized reservation systems.... Avant-garde composer John Cage, who used everything from juice blenders and radios to star charts and computers to push the musical envelope, died Wednesday.

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