Former NBA star Dennis Rodman, who has struck up a friendship with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, will visit the reclusive state next week to train its basketball team, sponsors said Thursday. The eccentric former Chicago Bulls star is organising a friendship exhibition game between North Korea and a team of mainly ex-NBA players on January 8, Kim's birthday. Sponsors Paddy Power said the December 19-23 training sessions and match are unaffected by the turbulent political events in North Korea, where Kim's uncle and former mentor Jang Song-Thaek was recently purged in a surprise move. "Those events don't change anything for us," said Rory Scott, a spokesman for the Irish bookmakers.
The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits rose sharply last week, reversing the prior three weeks declines, but a recent strengthening of the labor market likely remains intact. Initial claims for state unemployment benefits surged 68,000 to a seasonally adjusted 368,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday. A Labor Department analyst said no states had been estimated and there were no special factors influencing the report. The labor market is strengthening, with nonfarm payrolls increasing solidly in October and November.