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News Wrap: Greece, Italy Take New Steps to Restore Political Stability

November 16, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
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HARI SREENIVASAN: Wall Street suffered a late-day sell-off, after new warnings that Europe’s debt woes could hurt U.S. banks. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 190 points to close at 11,905. The Nasdaq fell 46 points to close at 2,639.

The markets also reacted to oil prices topping $100 a barrel for the first time in nearly four months. All of that outweighed some welcome economic news. Retail sales and industrial production were up in October and consumer prices fell slightly.

Italy and Greece took new steps today toward restoring political and economic stability. In Rome, Prime Minister Mario Monti was sworn in with a new cabinet that didn’t include a single politician. Instead, he appointed bankers, diplomats and business executives.

MARIO MONTI, Italian prime minister (through translator): The absence of politicians in the government will help and will not be an obstacle to a solid relationship of the government with the Parliament and political forces. It will take out possible grounds for embarrassment. The birth of an innovative government itself reflects the belief of many political forces.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And, in Greece, a new coalition government won a confidence vote in Parliament with a comfortable majority. Prime Minister Lucas Papademos had pledged to speed up reforms and win approval of a new bailout deal.

The swelling violence in Syria left the government increasingly under siege today. Army defectors staged new attacks, killing at least eight soldiers.

We have a report from Bill Neely of Independent Television News.

BILL NEELY: The pictures are as shaky as Syria’s regime. The sound is of a regime under fire from a new armed insurgency.

Syria’s story is changing. Tanks are still firing, but army defectors are hitting back — these armored vehicles destroyed by a rebel group called the Free Syrian Army. It claims to have killed 34 soldiers in an ambush, losing 12 men, a full-scale battle.

This scene could be from Iraq — insurgents attacking with a roadside bomb. Syria’s streets, day by day, are slipping from President Assad’s grip. And now, most daring of all, and just outside the capital, defectors have attacked an air force base. Witnesses heard explosions, attackers firing machine guns and rockets. After a short gun battle, helicopters were deployed.

It was the first assault on a major security base. It sends a message, said the rebels: “It proves we can attack the very heart of the Assad regime.”

These are the latest soldiers to desert, their ranks growing, like Syria’s crisis. Syria boasts that it’s the beating heart of the Arab world. At today’s Arab League summit, the heart was missing, Syria’s chair empty, Arab leaders condemning it for failing to end the killing.

It promised two weeks ago to pull its rooftop snipers and its troops out of cities. It has not. On state TV, a show of support for the president — he will need more than umbrellas to protect him from the gathering storm. And now even his family is turning against him. His exiled uncle says Assad should go and he will work to get rid of him. With friends like those, and a lot of enemies, Assad is feeling the heat as never before.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Also today, Arab League ministers confirmed their decision to suspend Syria from the organization. They gave the Assad regime three days to stop the violence, or face economic sanctions.

The U.S. House has voted to require that states honor concealed-weapons permits issued by other states. The bill was backed by the National Rifle Association. It would mean someone with a permit issued in one state is allowed to carry a concealed weapon in other states. The bill now goes to the Senate, where its prospects are unclear.

The House has also moved to provide new tax credits for companies that hire unemployed veterans. The bill already passed the Senate. It also expands education and job training for those who’ve served in the military.

Those are some of the day’s major stories.