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News Wrap: Afghan government releases suspected militants as Karzai pursues Taliban talks

February 13, 2014 at 6:13 PM EST
Hamid Karzai
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JUDY WOODRUFF: The long, hard winter is evidently hurting the economy well beyond Pennsylvania. The Commerce Department reported today that retail sales nationwide fell in January by four-tenths of a percent. It was the second straight decline. That’s led to growing suggestions that overall growth in the U.S. for the first quarter of the year will fall short of estimates.

Wall Street managed to make some headway today, despite the snowstorm. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 63 points to close at 16,027. The Nasdaq rose 39 points to close at 4,240.

Across the Atlantic Ocean, England and wales were also struggling to cope after yet another powerful storm struck overnight. It added to a flooding disaster that’s lasted five weeks and keeps getting worse.

We have a report from James Mates of Independent Television News.

JAMES MATES: When a natural disaster stretches from one side of the country to the other, there really is no way to picture it, except from the air. The water from weeks of biblical rains has to go somewhere.

Even the mighty River Thames can’t get it all to the sea. This whole area to the west of London is normally dotted with small lakes and the reservoirs that supply their capital. Today, it’s almost impossible to see where they end and the flooding begins, though we can be sure that this small boat is somewhere it has no business being.

If the Thames is struggling, the River Avon, as we flew west, seems almost to have given up. Tewkesbury Abbey is still dry, but for how much longer?  And the River Severn, well, look at it now. We are flying right above the normally fairly narrow and placid River Severn. To be honest, this is more like flying down the Amazon.

Central England is now a landscape dotted with newly formed islands. The map will tell you Upton-upon-Severn has the river on just its right-hand side. Not today. Before all this water reaches the sea, it must pass through the city of Worcester — well, through, over, across. Just look at the height of the water under the bridge.

And this isn’t a manmade lake. It’s New Road cricket ground, home of the Worcester county side. But it’s another sports ground that really shows what’s going on here. Look at these rugby posts. The crossbars barely above the water line are three meters, nine feet high.

Further down stream, the city of Gloucester knows that all this water is heading its way. Even without more rain, the excess water would continue to drain into these rivers for many days, but there will be more rain, lots of it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The weather was making news at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, for a different reason: It remained abnormally warm today. Even so, the competition went on.

And a spoiler alert: Tune out for a moment if you don’t want to know any results just yet. Americans swept the medals in the Olympics’ first-ever slopestyle skiing. And in men’s figure skating, Russian star Evgeni Plushenko stunned the Games when he withdrew after injuring his back.

Comcast will buy Time Warner Cable for more than $45 billion in stock. The deal announced today would combine the nation’s top two cable television companies with a total of some 30 million subscribers. It’s subject to approval by federal regulators and shareholders. We will examine the proposed deal and the possible consequences right after the news summary.

The government in Afghanistan released 65 accused Taliban militants today, over heated American objections. The inmates were freed at Parwan prison, formerly run by the U.S. military. U.S. and NATO officials warned that the men are dangerous. Some are suspected of planting bombs that have killed Afghan and foreign troops.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai rejected the criticism during a trip to Turkey.

PRESIDENT HAMID KARZAI, Afghanistan: If the Afghan judicial authorities decide to release a prisoner, it is of no concern to the U.S. and should be of no concern to the U.S. And I hope that the United States will stop harassing Afghanistan’s procedures and judicial authority.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The prisoner release also comes as Karzai is trying to pursue peace talks with the Taliban.

A U.N. mediator met with U.N. — U.S. and Russian envoys today, hoping to jump-start the Syrian peace talks. Lakhdar Brahimi conceded the talks have made little headway. But he said the U.S. and Russia pledged renewed efforts to help move things along.

LAKHDAR BRAHIMI, U.N. Envoy to Syria: They have kindly reaffirmed their support for what we are trying to do and promised that they will help, both here and in their capitals and in — and elsewhere, to unblock the situation for us.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The Syrian opposition said that it was told by the U.S. side that today’s meeting wasn’t successful. Meanwhile, in Syria, the weeklong cease-fire in Homs was extended through Saturday. So far, 1,400 civilians have been evacuated from the besieged city.