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Chinese manufacturing grows more than expected

HONG KONG - An early reading Thursday of a closely watched survey of manufacturing-sector activity provided the latest indication that China’s economy had bottomed out after many months of slowing growth.

The preliminary purchasing managers’ index for August, compiled by the research firm Markit and released by the British bank HSBC, jumped to 50.1 points from 47.7 in July, showing a swing to expansion from contraction, with a figure of 50 the dividing line. The increase, to a four-month high, easily beat analysts’ expectations.

HSBC’s preliminary survey offers one of the earliest indications each month of how the Chinese economy is doing, and Thursday’s reading is likely to solidify expectations that a stabilization that began to show in July has continued into August.

—Bettina Wassener, The New York Times

Top-secret court castigated NSA on surveillance

WASHINGTON - A federal judge sharply rebuked the National Security Agency in 2011 for repeatedly misleading the court that oversees its surveillance on domestic soil, including a program that is collecting tens of thousands of domestic emails and other Internet communications of Americans each year, according to a secret ruling made public on Wednesday.

The 85-page ruling by Judge John D. Bates, then serving as chief judge on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, involved an NSA program that systematically searches the contents of Americans’ international Internet communications without a warrant, in a hunt for discussions about foreigners who have been targeted for surveillance.

The Justice Department had told Bates that NSA officials had discovered that the program had also been gathering domestic messages for three years. Bates found that the agency had violated the Constitution and declared the problems part of a pattern of misrepresentation by agency officials in submissions to the secret court.

—Charlie Savage and Scott Shane, The New York Times

France urges ‘force’ in Syria if chemical attacks are confirmed

PARIS - As Western powers pressed the Syrian authorities to permit U.N. inspectors to examine the site of a claimed poison gas attack outside the capital, Damascus, France said Thursday that outside powers should respond ‘with force’ if the use of chemical weapons was confirmed.

At the same time, Israel said its intelligence assessments pointed to the use of chemical weapons.

The Israeli minister of strategic and intelligence affairs and international relations, Yuval Steinitz, told Israel Radio, ‘this of course was not for the first time.’

Steinitz did not specifically accuse the government of the Syrian president, Bashar Assad, of using chemical weapons Wednesday, but in the past Israel has frequently accused pro-Assad forces of using weapons from its large stockpiles of such munitions.

In an interview with BFM-TV television, the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, expressly ruled out the idea of ground forces intervening in Syria’s bloody civil war, now in its third year with more than 100,000 fatalities.

America’s top military officer has told Congress that, while the Pentagon could forcefully intervene in Syria to tip the balance in the civil war, there were no moderate rebel groups ready to fill a power vacuum.

—Alissa J. Rubin and Alan Cowell, The New York Times