Saudi-backed organization denounces countries for ‘inciting’ women to flee

FILE PHOTO: Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun (C) accompanied by Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland (R) and Saba Abbas, general counsellor of COSTI refugee service agency, arrives at Toronto Pearson International Airport in Toronto, Ontario, Canada January 12, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Osorio/File Photo

RIYADH (Reuters) – An organization backed by Saudi Arabia accused several foreign countries of inciting young women to reject their families, the first public comments from Riyadh since a woman claiming domestic abuse was granted asylum in Canada over the weekend.

The National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) did not name 18-year-old Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, who grabbed international attention after barricading herself in a Bangkok airport hotel room and appealing for help on Twitter to resist being sent back to her family, which denies any abuse.

But in a statement late on Sunday NSHR head Mufleh al-Qahtani accused unspecified countries and international organizations of pursuing political agendas and “pushing (women) ultimately to be lost and maybe to fall into the arms of brokers and human traffickers”.

While NSHR says it is independent, the U.S. State Department describes it as “government-funded”.

Riyadh’s human rights record has been in the spotlight since the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at its Istanbul consulate in October. There has also been growing international criticism of the Saudi-led coalition’s airstrikes in Yemen that have caused heavy civilian casualties including children.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in Riyadh on Monday, said he spoke with Saudi leaders about Yemen, Khashoggi and other human rights issues.

NSHR “was surprised by some countries’ incitement of some Saudi female delinquents to rebel against the values of their families and push them out of the country and seek to receive them under the pretext of granting them asylum,” Qahtani said.

He did not name Canada or Australia, which also considered offering Qunun asylum, or the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which granted her refugee status.

Qunun arrived in Toronto on Saturday, wearing a hoodie emblazoned with the word Canada, and a cap bearing the UNHCR logo. Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland welcomed her at the airport, calling her “a very brave new Canadian.”

Canada’s move comes amid tension with Riyadh after Ottawa demanded the immediate release of jailed rights activists last year, prompting Saudi Arabia to expel its ambassador to Canada, recall Saudis living there and freeze new trade.

The case has also drawn attention to Saudi Arabia’s guardianship system, which requires women to have the permission of a male relative to travel, sometimes trapping them as prisoners of abusive families.

Qahtani said Saudi laws forbid mistreatment and allow women to report it, but international rights groups say in practice many Saudi women fear that going to the police would only further endanger their lives.

(Reporting By Stephen Kalin, Editing by William Maclean)

Saudi teen to depart Thailand for Canada asylum-Thai immigration chief

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, a Saudi woman who claims to be fleeing her country and family, is seen in Bangkok, Thailand January 7, 2019 in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media. TWITTER/ @rahaf84427714/via REUTERS

By Patpicha Tanakasempipat

BANGKOK (Reuters) – A Saudi woman who fled to Thailand saying she feared her family would kill her has been granted asylum in Canada and is traveling there on Friday, the Thai immigration chief told Reuters.

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, 18, will board a Korean Air flight from Bangkok to Seoul on Friday night, immigration chief Surachate Hakpark said, before boarding a connecting flight to Canada.

“Canada has granted her asylum,” Surachate told Reuters. “She’ll leave tonight at 11.15 p.m.

Canadian authorities said they could not confirm that Qunun had been granted asylum in Canada.

“We have nothing new to add on this right now,” a spokesman for Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said.

Qunun arrived in Bangkok on Saturday and was initially denied entry but after a tense 48-hour stand-off at Bangkok airport, some of it barricaded in a transit lounge hotel room, she was allowed to enter the country and has been processed as a refugee by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

Qunun has accused her family of abuse and has refused to meet her father and brother who arrived in Bangkok to try to take her back to Saudi Arabia.

Her case has drawn global attention to Saudi Arabia’s strict social rules, including a requirement that women have the permission of a male “guardian” to travel, which rights groups say can trap women and girls as prisoners of abusive families.

Qunun’s plight has emerged at a time when Riyadh is facing unusually intense scrutiny from its Western allies over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Instanbul in October and over the humanitarian consequences of its war in Yemen.

Australia had said on Wednesday that it was considering taking in Qunun.

(Reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Additional reporting by David Ljunggren in OTTAWA, Editing by William Maclean)

U.S., allies to condemn China for economic espionage, charge hackers: source

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump takes part in a welcoming ceremony with China's President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, November 9, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States and about a dozen allies are expected on Thursday to condemn China for efforts to steal other countries’ trade secrets and technologies and to compromise government computers, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Australia, Britain, Canada, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Sweden are expected to be involved in the U.S. effort, according to the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The U.S. Justice Department also is expected later on Thursday to unveil criminal charges against hackers affiliated with China’s main intelligence service for an alleged cyber-spying campaign targeting U.S. and other countries’ networks, according to the source.

The Washington Post first reported the coming action on Thursday.

The suspected hackers are expected to be charged with spying on some of the world’s largest companies by hacking into technology firms to which they outsource email, storage and other computing tasks. The attacks began as early as 2017.

Cloudhopper is considered a major cyber threat by private-sector cybersecurity researchers and government investigators because of the scale of the intrusions.

Over the past several years, as companies around the globe have sought to cut down information technology spending, they have increasingly relied on outside contractors to store and transfer their data.

When a managed service provider is hacked, it can unintentionally provide attackers access to secondary victims who are customers of that company and have their computer systems connected to them, according to experts.

The timing of the action may further escalate tensions between Washington and Beijing after the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei Technologies, in Canada at the request of the United States.

The action also comes just weeks after the United States and China agreed to talks aimed at resolving an ongoing trade dispute that threatens global economic growth.

(Reporting by Diane Bartz, Lisa Lambert and Susan Heavey; Editing by Will Dunham)

Mexico’s president did not discuss border wall with Trump

FILE PHOTO: Mexico's new President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador arrives for an event to unveil his plan for oil refining, in Paraiso, Tabasco state, Mexico, December 9, 2018. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

By Anthony Esposito and Doina Chiacu

MEXICO CITY/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Thursday he has not discussed a proposed border wall with President Donald Trump, as the U.S. leader seemingly backtracked on threats to make Mexico pay for the controversial project.

“We have not discussed that issue, in any conversation. … It was a respectful and friendly conversation,” Lopez Obrador told reporters following a tweet in which the U.S. president said a new trade deal with Mexico and Canada would cover the cost of a wall.

The two leaders spoke by telephone on Wednesday. Lopez Obrador said they discussed the possibility of creating a joint program for development and job creation in Central America and Mexico.

One of Trump’s key campaign promises was to build the border wall and he had long pledged that Mexico — not U.S. taxpayers — would fund it.

In a Twitter post early on Thursday, Trump again insisted that Mexico will foot the bill for the border wall.

He wrote that payment will begin with savings for the United States as a result of the renegotiated trade deal between the United States, Mexico and Canada. “Just by the money we save, MEXICO IS PAYING FOR THE WALL!”

Mexico has repeatedly rejected Trump’s demand that it pay for the project, and it is unlikely the country’s new president will reverse that course.

Funding for the border wall has been a sticking point in spending bills before the U.S. Congress, and Trump clashed with leading Democrats over the issue during an Oval Office meeting on Tuesday.

One of them, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, taunted Trump over his Mexico claim later on Thursday.

“Mr. President: If you say Mexico is going to pay for the wall (which I don’t believe), then I guess we don’t have to! Let’s fund the government,” Schumer retorted in his own Twitter post.

Lopez Obrador said he also discussed a possible meeting with Trump in Washington.

“He invited me. I’m also able to go to Washington, but I think that both for him and for us there must be a reason and I think the most important thing would be to sign this agreement or meet with that purpose,” said Lopez Obrador.

(Reporting by Anthony Esposito in Mexico City and Doina Chiacu in Washington; editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Jonathan Oatis)

On eve of signing, North America trade pact still being finalized

FILE PHOTO: The flags of Canada, Mexico and the U.S. are seen on a lectern before a joint news conference on the closing of the seventh round of NAFTA talks in Mexico City, Mexico March 5, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido//File Photo

By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) – A day before Canada, the United States and Mexico are due to sign a new trade pact, negotiators are still thrashing out what exactly they will be putting their names to, officials said on Thursday.

The three countries agreed a deal in principle to govern the trillion dollars of mutual trade after a year and a half of contentious talks concluded with a late-night bargain just an hour before a deadline on Sept. 30.

Yet, amid squabbling between the United States and Canada, the details of the deal are still being worked on, less than a day before the scheduled Nov. 30 signing date on the sidelines of the Group of 20 world leaders summit in Buenos Aires.

Two Canadian sources directly familiar with the talks said it was unclear whether the three countries would sign a finalized pact or settle for some sort of less formal deal, leaving contentious details to be worked out later.

“As is always the case … with these agreements, there are always details to be finalized and we are very hard at work doing that,” Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland told reporters in Buenos Aires.

Canada was on track to sign the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), she said in televised remarks, adding that one of the issues was that the deal still needed to be translated into three languages.

A Mexican source said that “the legal review, translations and collation of documents are being concluded,” but ruled out important changes.

Officials say differences sometimes emerge as lawyers seek to nail down language agreed upon by negotiators.

One of the Canadian sources said Freeland might be hedging her bets until she was sure that a sometimes unpredictable U.S. administration would definitely sign.

But the source, who declined to be identified given the sensitivity of the situation, said it was nonetheless unusual that details were still being worked out so late.

“This is normally the time when people are focused on … (finalizing) the celebratory news release” said the source.

Canadian officials have complained the United States was trying to change elements of the pact that the sides had agreed on, sources have said.

Dairy remains a sticking point, sources familiar with the matter said this week, noting the United States was demanding detailed information about Canada’s protected dairy market.

Canada’s politically influential dairy lobby on Wednesday said the USMCA would “grant the U.S. oversight into the administration of the Canadian dairy system” and urged the government not to sign.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren, additional reporting by Ana Isabel Martinez in Mexico City and Rod Nickel in Winnipeg; Editing by Susan Thomas and Rosalba O’Brien)

U.S. officials say tainted romaine lettuce appears to be from California

FILE PHOTO: Romaine lettuce has been taken off the shelf for fear of an E. coli outbreak at this grocery store in Toronto, Ontario, Canada November 21, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Osorio

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said on Monday that the source of an E.coli outbreak in the United States and Canada that has been associated with romaine lettuce appeared to be growers in the Central Coast region of California.

At least 43 people in 12 states and 22 people in Canada have been sickened in the outbreak. Last week the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a blanket warning to avoid all romaine and advised consumers, restaurants and markets to destroy any on hand.

The FDA said on Monday that all romaine lettuce entering the market should now be labeled with a harvest location and date and that consumers should not buy or eat it if that information is missing.

The agency said that going forward romaine lettuce grown in the Central Coast region of California should be discarded, while product from elsewhere was no longer subject to a warning.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb)

Dozens of indigenous women forcibly sterilized in Canada, U.N. committee hears

People take part in a smudging ceremony organised by the First Nations Indigenous Warriors and the American Indian Movement on the Cote First Nation, near the town of Kamsack, Saskatchewan, Canada, August 6, 2017. Smudging is a common practice among some indigenous peoples in North America and is believed to cleanse a person or place of negative energy. REUTERS/Zachary Prong

By Chris Arsenault

TORONTO (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Dozens of indigenous women were forcibly sterilized by Canadian health authorities, including as recently as in 2017, said the lawyer leading a class-action lawsuit against the government.

Alisa Lombard was speaking on Thursday after appearing in Geneva at the U.N. Committee against Torture during hearings into Canada’s human rights record.

More than 90 indigenous women in the western province of Saskatchewan contacted lawyers to join the lawsuit over forced sterilization, said Lombard of Maurice Law, the indigenous-run firm spearheading the case.

“This practice needs to stop,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, adding that she knew of cases in 2009, 2011 and 2017.

“If it happened then and nothing was done to prevent it, I don’t see why it wouldn’t be happening now,” Lombard said.

A government spokeswoman said officials were still gathering information on the issue, and could not say with certainty that the practice had stopped.

The U.N. committee will publish its findings on December 7.

“This class action is there to stop it (forced sterilization), punish it and prosecute it,” Lombard said of the suit, which was filed last year.

Health experts and human rights campaigners said the forced sterilizations, which the United Nations considers a form of torture, are symptomatic of the discrimination and abuse that Canada’s indigenous women face.

The government does not deny coerced sterilizations took place. However, a spokeswoman for the minister of indigenous services told the Thomson Reuters Foundation she could not comment on allegations in the lawsuit as the matter was before the courts.

‘SERIOUS VIOLATION’

Earlier this week, minister of indigenous services Jane Philpott told lawmakers the “coerced sterilisation of some indigenous women by medical professionals is a serious violation of human rights”.

“We know that indigenous patients can face systemic barriers in accessing medical services, including discrimination and racism,” Philpott said.

It remained unclear how many indigenous women were forcibly sterilized in Saskatchewan or elsewhere in Canada, said Alex Neve, secretary-general of Amnesty International Canada, who also testified at the U.N. committee hearings.

“It is impossible not to conclude that this arises from a context of deeply entrenched racism and colonialism. This is tied up with stereotypes of indigenous women as being incapable mothers,” he said.

Indigenous people comprise about 5 percent of Canada’s 36.5 million people and are disproportionately affected by poverty. Nearly half live in western provinces such as Saskatchewan, according to government census data.

During his testimony, Neve called on the government to appoint an independent investigator – ideally an indigenous woman, he said – to conduct a review to determine the scale of the problem and recommend solutions.

“Under international law, it is very clear forced sterilization is torture,” Neve said.

DECADES-LONG PRACTICE

The lawsuit, which Lombard said could go to trial in 2019, names the Saskatchewan government, provincial hospitals, several doctors and national authorities. It is seeking C$7 million ($5.3 million) per plaintiff.

Forced or coerced sterilization – which is defined as sterilizing women without their proper, informed consent – began in Canada in the 1930s and continued until at least 2017, the suit states.

The lawsuit cites a woman with the initials M.R.L.P. as the lead plaintiff. It said the Saskatchewan resident was sterilized without proper, informed consent immediately after her second child was delivered by emergency cesarean section in September 2008.

Health professionals suggested she undergo a tubal ligation – a surgical procedure in which a woman’s fallopian tubes are blocked, tied or cut – when she was “particularly vulnerable”: in labor and about to undergo emergency surgery.

“Her written consent was sought by health professionals moments before emergency surgery was affirmed, contemporaneously with the administration of opioids, and while she was incapacitated by the pain associated with active labor,” the statement of claim said.

When she later sought to have the procedure reversed, health professionals told her she would be unlikely to fall pregnant. Her relationship with her then-partner ended due to her sterility, the suit said.

“Canada and the province were aware of these policies and practice and their disproportionate impacts on vulnerable Aboriginal women, historically and currently, and have done nothing to prevent them,” the statement of claim said.

Canada’s universal healthcare is largely funded by the national government and provided by provincial authorities.

The lawsuit said coerced sterilizations were an example of cruel and unusual punishment, which is illegal under the country’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The provincial health ministry told the Thomson Reuters Foundation it had launched an independent review last year after indigenous women came forward saying they had been pressured into having tubal ligations after giving birth.

It changed its policies after that review, a ministry spokeswoman said.

“It (the government) now requires that a woman must have had a documented discussion with her healthcare provider before coming into hospital,” she said in emailed comments.

“Otherwise, a tubal ligation would not be provided during the patient’s post-partum experience … Our priority is to engage, understand and better serve the health needs of all indigenous residents of Saskatchewan.”

The provincial ministry said it was implementing cultural training for all maternal services staff and was working with indigenous leaders and elders to improve the consent process and healthcare in general.

The spokeswoman could not comment on specific claims made in court documents as litigation is ongoing.

Marcia Anderson, a professor of health sciences at Canada’s University of Manitoba, said it was difficult to hold healthcare providers to account as the country did not gather data on health-quality performance by race.

“There is very little (even no) ability to monitor the expression of racism in the healthcare system,” Anderson said by email.

“Racism is as present in healthcare as it is in our broader society, but it is acted out in different ways.”

(Reporting by Chris Arsenault; Editing by Robert Carmichael and Zoe Tabary. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories.)

Canadian diplomats hit by Cuba illness feel ‘abandoned’: paper

People pass by the Canada's Embassy in Havana, Cuba, April 16, 2018. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

OTTAWA (Reuters) – A group of Canadian diplomats who left the embassy in Cuba after they suffered unusual health symptoms says their foreign ministry has abandoned them, the Globe and Mail newspaper reported on Monday.

Canada said in April it would remove the families of staff posted to Havana, where both Canadian and U.S. diplomats have complained of dizziness, headaches and nausea.

The diplomats complained the foreign ministry – unlike the U.S. State Department – had said very little about the matter in public and did not appear to be making their case a priority. Getting specialized medical care had been difficult, they added.

“We did not expect to be abandoned, or more precisely, sacrificed — that’s how we’re feeling now,” the paper quoted one of them as saying.

Several of those affected believe Ottawa has said little in public because it wants to maintain friendly relations with Cuba, the Globe added.

The office of Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland was not immediately available for comment. The Globe cited Freeland spokesman Adam Austen as saying “we will continue to do all we can to provide advice and support” to those affected.

U.S. and Cuban officials met at the State Department in September to discuss the mysterious health problems. The United States has reduced embassy staffing in Cuba from more than 50 to a maximum 18.

NBC News said in September that U.S. officials believe the health problems may have been caused by sophisticated electromagnetic weapons.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Susan Thomas)

Canada says safety of Pakistani woman in blasphemy case a ‘priority’

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada urged Pakistan on Tuesday to ensure the well-being of a Pakistani Christian woman whose life is in danger after having been acquitted in the South Asian country last month of blasphemy charges against Islam, a ruling that sparked mass protests.

The case of Asia Bibi, who spent eight years on death row in Pakistan before being released, has outraged Christians worldwide. Bibi’s husband, Ashiq Masih, has appealed for help to Britain, Canada, Italy and the United States, and so far, Italy has said it would assist her.

“It’s a very important issue, a central priority for our government,” Canada’s foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, said of Bibi’s case after meeting her European Union counterpart, Federica Mogherini, in Montreal.

Bibi was convicted of blasphemy in 2010 after neighbors said she made derogatory remarks about Islam when they objected to her drinking water from their glass because she was not Muslim. She is a Protestant and denies committing blasphemy.

“Canada calls on Pakistan to take all measures necessary to ensure the safety and security of Asia Bibi and her family,” Freeland said. “Canada is prepared to do everything we can” and is “extremely engaged in this issue,” Freeland said.

Islamists shut down roads in major cities in Pakistan during three days of demonstrations against Bibi’s acquittal. They have threatened to escalate the protests if she is permitted to leave the country. The government has indicated it will bar her from traveling abroad.

Bibi’s lawyer, Saiful Mulook, fled to the Netherlands earlier this week because of fears for the safety of his family.

(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

U.S. job growth jumps; annual wage gain largest since 2009

People wait in line at a stand during the Executive Branch Job Fair hosted by the Conservative Partnership Institute at the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, U.S., June 15, 2018. REUTERS/Toya Sarno Jordan

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. job growth rebounded sharply in October and wages recorded their largest annual gain in 9-1/2 years, pointing to further labor market tightening that could encourage the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates again in December.

The Labor Department’s closely watched monthly employment report on Friday also showed the unemployment rate steady at a 49-year low of 3.7 percent as 711,000 people entered the labor force, in a sign of confidence in the jobs market.

Sustained labor market strength could ease fears about the economy’s health following weak housing data and stalling business spending. President Donald Trump cheered the robust report, which came less than a week before the midterm elections that will decide who controls the U.S. Congress.

“These are incredible numbers,” Trump tweeted.

Nonfarm payrolls increased by 250,000 jobs last month as employment in the leisure and hospitality sector bounced back after being held down by Hurricane Florence, which drenched North and South Carolina in mid-September.

There were also big gains in manufacturing, construction and professional and business services payrolls. Data for September was revised to show 118,000 jobs added instead of the previously reported 134,000.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast payrolls increasing by 190,000 jobs in October and the unemployment rate unchanged at 3.7 percent. The Labor Department said Hurricane Michael, which struck the Florida Panhandle in mid-October, “had no discernible effect on the national employment and unemployment estimates for October.”

Average hourly earnings rose five cents, or 0.2 percent, in October after advancing 0.3 percent in September. That boosted the annual increase in wages to 3.1 percent, the biggest gain since April 2009, from 2.8 percent in September.

Employers also increased hours for workers last month. The average workweek increased to 34.5 hours from 34.4 hours in September.

“The report shows a booming U.S. economy with a sufficient whiff of wage inflation to keep the Fed on track to raise rates in December and at least twice next year,” said David Kelly, chief global strategist at JPMorgan Funds in New York.

Strong annual wage growth mirrors other data published this week showing wages and salaries rising in the third quarter by the most since mid-2008. Hourly compensation also increased at a brisk pace in the third quarter.

Firming wages support views that inflation will hover around the Fed’s 2.0 percent target for a while. The personal consumption expenditures price index excluding the volatile food and energy components, which is the Fed’s preferred inflation measure, has increased by 2.0 percent for five straight months.

The Fed is not expected to raise rates at its policy meeting next week, but economists believe October’s strong labor market data could see the U.S. central bank signal an increase in December. The Fed raised borrowing costs in September for the third time this year.

U.S. stocks were trading mostly lower and the dollar was slightly weaker against a basket of currencies on Friday. Prices of U.S. Treasuries were lower.

WORKER SHORTAGE

Employers, scrambling to find qualified workers, are boosting wages. There are a record 7.14 million open jobs.

Online retail giant Amazon.com Inc announced last month that it would raise its minimum wage to $15 per hour for U.S. employees starting in November. Workers at United States Steel Corp are set to receive a hefty pay rise also.

Employment gains have averaged 218,000 jobs per month over the past three months, double the roughly 100,000 needed to keep up with growth in the working-age population.

That is seen supporting the economy through at least early 2019 when gross domestic product is expected to significantly slow as the stimulus from the White House’s $1.5 trillion tax cut package fades.

The labor force participation rate, or the proportion of working-age Americans who have a job or are looking for one, increased two-tenths of a percentage point to 62.9 percent last month.

A broader measure of unemployment, which includes people who want to work but have given up searching and those working part-time because they cannot find full-time employment, fell to 7.4 percent last month from 7.5 percent in September. The employment-to-population ratio rose two-tenths of percentage point to 60.6 percent, the highest since January 2009.

Last month, employment in the leisure and hospitality sector increased by 42,000 jobs after being unchanged in September. Retail payrolls rose by only 2,400, likely restrained by layoffs related to Steinhoff’s Mattress Firm bankruptcy as well as some store closures by Sears Holdings Corp.

Construction companies hired 30,000 more workers in October. Jobs in the sector have been increasing despite weakness in the housing market. Government payrolls rose by 4,000 jobs in October.

Manufacturing employment increased by 32,000 jobs in October after adding 18,000 positions in September. Job gains in the sector, which accounts for about 12 percent of the U.S. economy, could slow after a survey on Thursday showed a measure of factory employment fell in October.

So far, manufacturing hiring does not appear to have been affected by the Trump administration’s protectionist trade policy, which has contributed to capacity constraints at factories. The United States is locked in a bitter trade war with China as well as tit-for-tat tariffs with other trade partners, including the European Union, Canada and Mexico.

Despite the protectionist measures, the trade deficit continues to deteriorate. In a separate report on Friday, the Commerce Department said the trade gap increased 1.3 percent to $54.0 billion in September, widening for a fourth straight month.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Clive McKeef and Paul Simao)