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News Wrap: Egyptian court issues death sentences to 529 Morsi supporters

March 24, 2014 at 6:02 PM EST
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GWEN IFILL: The government of Malaysia now says the fate of a Malaysian airliner is a mystery no longer. The prime minister announced today that satellite data shows the plane crashed in the Southern Indian Ocean. All 239 passengers and crew are presumed killed. We will have a full report right after the news summary.

The death toll from a massive mudslide in Washington State rose to eight today. Another 108 people were listed as missing, but authorities said that figure could drop. Search-and-rescue continued on the ground and from the air over the one-square-mile area an hour north of Seattle. About 30 homes were destroyed in the Saturday morning slide.

And Fire Chief Travis Hots said today, the outlook is grim.

TRAVIS HOTS, Snohomish County Fire District 21: We’re still holding out hope that we’re going to be able to find people that may still be alive. But keep in mind, we have not found anybody alive on this pile since Saturday in the initial stages of our operation. But, again, we’re still in a rescue mode.

GWEN IFILL: In addition to the dead and the missing, several people were critically injured.

The Coast Guard labored today to reopen the Port of Houston, one of the country’s busiest. It’s been closed since Saturday when a barge crash in the Houston shipping channel spilled nearly 170,000 gallons of heavy oil. Additional containment booms were set out today to isolate the spill. Authorities hope to stop the oil from reaching the shoreline as well as nearby animal sanctuaries.

Ukraine has begun pulling back troops from Crimea, as it warns, Russia may have designs on more Ukrainian territory. The crisis also dominated a meeting of major industrial nations today. They called off a meeting that Russia was to host in June. Instead, they will meet in Brussels, minus the Russians. Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner will have more, from Kiev later in the program.

In Egypt, a court handed down death sentences for 529 supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi after a two-day mass trial. All but 150 were tried in absentia.
We have a report narrated by Lindsey Hilsum of Independent Television News 

LINDSEY HILSUM: “Our sons, our sons,” she screams. The families were not allowed into the court, nor most of the defendants, nor their lawyers.

ALY MAHMMOUD, Defense Lawyer (through translator): We were all banned from attending by the security forces. The judge issued his verdict with no defense lawyers attending, and sentenced 529 to death. The remaining verdicts will be heard on April the 28th. This is not justice. Justice has been killed.

LINDSEY HILSUM: The verdict will be appealed and the sentences may be commuted. But a mass death penalty like this has no modern precedent anywhere.

The case goes back to August last year, when forces of the military government destroyed a Muslim Brotherhood protest encampment in Cairo. Some 900 people are believed to have been killed. The following day, Brotherhood supporters, including those condemned today, took to the streets of other towns, including Minya, where they allegedly burned several churches.

Egypt’s de facto leader, General Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, is determined to crush the Brotherhood. In Cairo today, three journalists for Al-Jazeera appeared in court for the third time in cages. The judge adjourned the case until March the 31st.

GWEN IFILL: The U.S. will send more troops and military planes to Uganda to hunt for fugitive warlord Joseph Kony. His Lord’s Resistance Army is accused of killing and mutilating civilians and kidnapping thousands of children. The U.S. sent 100 special operations troops to help find Kony in 2011. The new deployments add another 150 troops and airmen.

Japan has agreed to hand over more than 700 pounds of weapons-grade nuclear material to the U.S. for disposal. The deal was announced as the nuclear security summit opened at The Hague. The White House said it has reached similar agreements with Italy and Belgium. We will talk to an expert in nuclear proliferation later in the program.

China demanded an explanation today after reports that U.S. intelligence has hacked e-mail servers for a major Chinese tech company, Huawei. The reports say the National Security Agency targeted senior Chinese officials and government institutions going back to 2009.

In Beijing, a foreign affairs ministry spokesman had this to say.

HONG LEI, Spokesman, Chinese Foreign Ministry (through interpreter): We are gravely concerned at the reports. Over a period of time, there has been a lot of global media coverage regarding the U.S. wiretapping, monitoring and stealing confidential information from countries, including China. China has made many representations to the U.S. We urge the U.S. to give a clear account and stop similar acts.

GWEN IFILL: President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping met today at that nuclear security summit. The White House said they discussed cyber-security, among other things.

A federal jury in New York has convicted five former employees of Bernard Madoff of enabling his long-running Ponzi scheme. The verdicts today followed a six-month trial. The defendants were found guilty on all 33 charges, ranging from securities fraud to falsifying books. Madoff himself is already serving a 150-year prison term.

On Wall Street today: The Dow Jones industrial average lost 26 points to close at 16,276. The Nasdaq fell 50 points to close at 4,226. And the S&P 500 gave up nine points to finish at 1,857.