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The productivity of US workers surged at the fastest rate in nearly three years during the final quarter of last year, the Labor Department reported. Productivity, a measure of output per worker-hour, climbed 3.7 percent for those outside the farm sector - the biggest gain since a 4.2 percent increase in the first quarter of 1996. The productivity burst at the end of 1998 helped produce a healthy 2.2 percent increase in productivity for the year.

Iowa Republican caucuses will be held Feb. 7, 2000 - two weeks earlier than previously scheduled, state party chairman Kayne Robinson announced. He said that was the earliest allowable date under Republican National Committee rules. The Louisiana Republican Party has said it hopes to hold regional caucuses before Iowa's, which have been a traditional launching pad for the presidential-campaign season.

Soil samples from a Sudanese pharmaceutical plant destroyed by US cruise missiles in August have yielded no evidence the factory was used to make chemical weapons, according to a US scientist hired by the plant's owner, The New York Times reported. Quoting Thomas Tullius, chairman of Boston University's chemistry department and the sampling-project leader, the article said analysis of soil, sludge, and debris from the bombed-out El-Shifa plant in Khartoum, Sudan, failed to detect Empta or Empa - two precursors of chemical-weapons agents the US has said were produced at the factory.

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