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Brisk demand for new cars pushed US retail sales up strongly in December, the Commerce Department said. Nonetheless, there were no signs of a holiday rush at clothing and department stores, where business weakened from November. Total retail sales increased a stronger-than-expected 0.9 percent to a seasonally adjusted $231.35 billion, after a 0.6 percent gain in November. Eight thousand jobs, or 1/10th of its work force, will be eliminated over the next three years, Northern Telecom announced. Canada's largest high-tech company said it plans to shift its focus from standard telephone equipment to voice-and-data networks using Internet technology. Last year, in a $7 billion deal, Nortel acquired California-based Bay Networks. Lawsuits seeking more than $1 billion in damages were filed by Asian garment workers on Saipan against 18 US retailers. The class-action suits - alleging beatings, forced abortions, rat-infested living quarters, and 84-hour work-weeks - target such high-profile chains or brands as Wal-Mart, Sears, J. Crew, Oshkosh B'Gosh, Lane Bryant, The Gap, and The Limited. Factories cited by the plaintiffs are subcontractors and most are owned by Chinese, Japanese, or South Koreans. Saipan is a Central Pacific island in the Northern Marianas, a chain that has US commonwealth status. The lawsuits were filed in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Saipan.


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