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News Wrap: Judge Approves BP Oil Spill Settlement Worth $4 Billion

January 29, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
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HARI SREENIVASAN: A federal judge in New Orleans gave the go-ahead today to a settlement with BP in the 2010 Gulf oil disaster. The company agreed to plead guilty to manslaughter and other charges and to pay a record $4 billion in criminal penalties. The Gulf disaster began with an oil rig explosion that killed 11 people. Before the well was finally sealed, it spewed more than 200 million gallons of oil into the sea.

Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts was confirmed today to be secretary of state. The vote was 94-3, as the five-term Democrat won the overwhelming approval of his colleagues. Kerry is 69, and a former Democratic presidential nominee. Senators from both sides praised him in a rare show of bipartisan support.

SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ, D-N.J.: John has already built strong relationships with leaders across the world, which will allow him to step seamlessly into the role of secretary of state.

SEN. BOB CORKER, R-Tenn.: I don’t know of anybody who has led the life that has been more oriented towards ultimately being secretary of state than John Kerry.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Kerry has been an unofficial envoy for the Obama administration in recent years. He will succeed Hillary Clinton, who is stepping down after serving as secretary of state since 2009.

In Egypt, the army chief warned the country’s political crisis could lead to — quote — “collapse of the state.” General Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi issued the warning as protests and violence extended into a sixth day. In Port Said, thousands of people marched in funerals for some of the 60 people killed since last week. And, in Cairo, groups of protesters fought again with riot police. The protests are aimed at President Mohammed Morsi and his Islamist-dominated government.

Evidence of a new massacre surfaced in Syria today. At least 65 bodies were found in Aleppo. The victims had been bound and shot in the head, but it was unclear who was responsible. Meanwhile, the plight of thousands of refugees continues to worsen. Some have even sought shelter in ancient ruins at Serjilla in northwestern Syria.

John Irvine of Independent Television News reports.

MAN: Three weeks old.

JOHN IRVINE: And what a world she’s been born into, for her home is a hole in the ground. It was dug by the Romans, who used it to stable livestock.

These are the ruins of a Byzantine city that’s been reoccupied by hundreds of people, desperate Syrians forced by a modern war machine to retreat into an ancient life where they must wait for Goliath to be toppled. This subterranean stable is now home to 60 members of an extended family. The matriarch told me their proper home was obliterated by a Syrian army bomb.

In what was the patrician part of the ancient city, a child sleeps in a tomb. The crypt of a rich Roman now houses Syria’s poor and persecuted. They even use the water that still flows into the Roman baths here. The only function this site should have is to show case Syria’s rich history. Instead — and perversely — it showcases the desperate state of Syria today. Metaphorically, and in this instance literally, many lives are in ruins.

These people swapped danger for misery months ago, and they have no idea of when they will be able to leave here. Tonight, hundreds of frightened Syrians, many of them children, will be trying to sleep in freezing burrows dug for animals 2,000 years ago.

HARI SREENIVASAN: For the second time in as many weeks, the smog over eastern China was off the charts today. In Beijing, thick gray-brown haze cloaked streets, reducing visibility so much that it forced airlines to cancel flights. Those who ventured outside had to don face masks to protect themselves. The Chinese government responded by ordering more than 100 factories to suspend production. It also told workers to cut car travel by a third.

In U.S. economic news, home prices moved higher in November, at the strongest pace in six years. The Standard & Poor’s Case-Shiller index said New York was the only major city to report a decline. And on Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average gained 72 points to close at 13,954. The Nasdaq fell a fraction of a point to close at 3,153.