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Other News: U.S. Soldier Kills 5 Fellow Troops in Iraq

May 11, 2009 at 6:10 PM EST
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An American soldier in Iraq opened fire on his comrades, killing five and injuring three others, and volunteers in Sri Lanka dug mass graves after two days of deadly shelling in which up to 1,000 civilians were killed.
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JIM LEHRER: In other news today, an American soldier in Iraq turned his gun on five of his own comrades and killed them before being subdued. It happened outside a counseling center near Baghdad International Airport. Troops go there for help with combat stress or other personal issues.

Officials had no word on what sparked the shooting. A spokesman for President Obama called it a “terrible tragedy.”

In Sri Lanka, volunteer workers dug mass graves after two days of deadly shelling. There were estimates that up to 1,000 civilians were killed, including more than 100 children. The attacks took place in a tiny part of the northeast coast. Government troops have cornered Tamil rebels there, trying to end a 25-year civil war.

Both sides denied responsibility for the artillery attacks. The U.N. called the situation a “bloodbath.”

The fighting in Pakistan also continued without let-up, as the army pressed an offensive against the Taliban. The government said warplanes killed 700 militants operating in the Swat Valley, but large numbers of civilians were put to flight.

We have a report from Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: Heading for the front line. Pakistani troops on the highway leading to the Swat Valley, where 20 soldiers and 700 Taliban militants have been reported killed in the last four days.

The enemy’s on the run, says Islamabad, vowing that it won’t stop until the last Taliban is flushed out of hiding.

But official casualty figures are impossible to verify. And whatever the truth, hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis are reckoned to have fled the fighting. The U.N.’s estimate: 360,000 so far, many of them escaping with little more than the clothes on their backs.

This offensive, designed to root out the Taliban, is now in danger of delivering it more recruits.

BAKHTE RWAN (through translator): I was coming back to my family after praying, and they started shelling. When I reached my house, I found my wife and two sons were dead. And now I have nothing.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: Refugee camps are swelling with new arrivals, while thousands more remain trapped on or near the front line. This man says he walked here with his son and two cows and a goat. At first, he was told there was no room for him, until a fellow refugee, hearing his story, then let him into his tent.

How the government treats these traumatized people could prove critical to keeping the Pakistani public on the government’s side, though Islamabad has declared that the provincial authorities are to manage and coordinate emergency relief.

MOHAMMED PARWAEZ (through translator): We’ve gone more than 24 hours without eating. They haven’t told us anything. There’s no food here, no water, nothing. I have small children. What can I do? The officials told me to go outside and buy water, but we don’t have anything to carry it in.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: Because there isn’t enough food to go around, local villagers outside the conflict zone are donating what they can. And Pakistan’s prime minister has called for more foreign aid.

But if the army does not take on the Taliban, it fears there will be more scenes like this: a suicide bomber today killing eight people north of Peshawar and injuring several others.

So up to 15,000 troops are being deployed against up to 5,000 Taliban guerillas in what the government’s calling a fight for the country’s survival.

JIM LEHRER: The U.N. Refugee Agency appealed for international support to help with the exodus from Swat Valley. The prime minister of Pakistan said the government is checking for militants who may be hiding among the refugees.

An American journalist accused of spying in Iran has been set free. Roxana Saberi had spent four months behind bars, but an appeals court suspended her eight-year sentence today.

In Washington, Secretary of State Clinton welcomed the news.

HILLARY CLINTON, Secretary of State: Obviously, we continue to take issue with the charges against her and the verdicts rendered, but we are very heartened that she has been released and wish her and her family all of the very best we can send their way.

JIM LEHRER: Saberi was released into the custody of her father. She’s expected to return to the United States in the next few days.

Millions of children have returned to school in Mexico after the swine flu scare. Classrooms reopened after a 17-day shutdown to stop the spread of the virus. Overall, the outbreak has killed 56 people in Mexico and infected more than 2,000. In the U.S., the number of confirmed cases rose to 2,600 in 44 states, the most of any country.

On Wall Street, stocks tumbled off a four-month high as investors cashed in profits from recent days. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost more than 155 points to close at 8,418. The Nasdaq fell more than 7 points to close at 1,731.

Bankruptcy appeared more likely today for General Motors. The automaker is just three weeks away from a government deadline to restructure. The company’s CEO, Fritz Henderson, said he still has hope, but he acknowledged the task facing G.M. is large.

Big corporations will get a closer look from the government if they suppress competition; the Justice Department announced the policy shift. It drops legal guidelines set by the Bush administration last year. Assistant Attorney General Christine Varney said lax enforcement of anti-monopoly laws helped cause the recession.