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News Wrap: February Was Best Month in Three Years for Increase of Home Sales

March 21, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
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KWAME HOLMAN: More Americans are putting their homes on the market, and that’s helping fuel home resales. The National Association of Realtors reported sales were up 0.8 percent in February, the fastest increase in home sales in more than three years. Housing markets across the country have benefited from near record-low mortgage rates and job growth.

The housing news wasn’t enough to lift Wall Street today. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 90 points to close at 14,421. The Nasdaq fell more than 31 points to close above 3,222.

It was a race against the calendar in Cyprus today, as the island nation’s government tried to come up with a plan to qualify for a Eurozone bailout by Monday.

We have a report narrated by Faisal Islam of Independent Television News.

FAISAL ISLAM: Not your average bank holiday in the Mediterranean. Cyprus’ five-day-long bank stroll sped up this morning into a bank jog and then a first, a cash machine run on a banking system who is still officially closed. The uneasy calm broke today.

MAN: It’s just the situation where an E.U. citizen feels that it’s more encouraging to take money and basically stick it under a mattress or, you know, in a pillow or something, rather than have it in a bank. I mean, how disgusting is that?

FAISAL ISLAM: The first spark was unconfirmed Cypriot broadcast reports about the liquidation of Laiki Bank, also known as Marfin and popular. It’s Cyprus’ second biggest bank and it’s heavily dependent on emergency central bank funding. This morning, Europe’s Central Bank said that this emergency liquidity support would be pulled on Monday in the absence of Cyprus agreeing an E.U./IMF deal.

Cyprus only joined the euro five years ago. Then it was a wealthy nation on the receiving end of $5 billion euros of so-called safe haven flows fleeing from bankrupt Greece. Now having aggressively rejected the first deal where all depositors would lose some of their savings, today, the politicians were trying to conjure a new deal based on levies on larger deposits, property sales, mortgaging gas fields, and pension fund cash reserves.

AVEROF NEOPHYTOU, Cyprus Deputy Democratic Party Leader: I believe that the political parties will shoulder the necessary responsibility for the survival of the Cypriot economy.

FAISAL ISLAM: By the evening, however, news firmed up about the plan to split Laiki Bank, and its staff marched on parliament in the first really tense protests in this country’s crisis.

This evening, the queues at the cash machines grew even longer as they ran dry. Parliament is also considering capital controls to stop money being taken out of this country.

KWAME HOLMAN: Late tonight, a new proposal was floated in parliament to create a fund using revenue from natural resources, bonds and other assets. But debate was delayed until Friday.

The U.N. agreed today to launch an investigation into the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria. The Syrian government and rebels have accused each other of using them in an attack in Aleppo this week.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said the investigation will begin as soon as possible, but not overnight.

SECRETARY GENERAL BAN KI-MOON, United Nations: The investigation mission is to look into the specific incident brought to my attention by the Syrian government. In discharging its mandate of an investigation mission, full cooperation from all parties will be essential. I stress that this includes unfettered access.

KWAME HOLMAN: In Syria today, a mosque in central Damascus was struck by a suicide bomber. At least 42 people were killed, among them, a top Sunni Muslim cleric who supported President Bashar al-Assad.

Iran appeared today to open the door to possible direct talks with the U.S. over its nuclear program. The Supreme Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said he is not opposed to talks, but he also said he is not optimistic they’d accomplish much. He also repeated Iran’s claim that its nuclear programs are for peaceful purposes.

A car bomb killed 13 people waiting in line for food at a refugee camp in Pakistan today. Hundreds were lined up for food rations at the Jalozai camp in Northwest Pakistan when the bomb went off. An aid worker and a security guard were among those killed; 25 others were injured. Many of the refugees at the camp have been displaced by fighting along the Afghan border between the Pakistani army and the Taliban.

A jailed Kurdish leader in Turkey called for an immediate truce today in one of the world’s longest and bloodiest insurgencies. A huge crowd of Kurds danced and cheered as Abdullah Ocalan’s letter directing his forces to withdraw from Turkey was read aloud. His Workers Party, or PKK, has been fighting for autonomy in southeastern Turkey for 30 years. The truce announcement came after months of peace negotiations with the Turkish government.

Those are some of the day’s major stories — now back to Hari.