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News Wrap: Relatives of Flight 370 passengers protest in Beijing for more information

March 25, 2014 at 6:02 PM EST
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JUDY WOODRUFF: The president today firmed up his plan for reining in the National Security Agency. He wants Congress to stop the agency from gathering phone records and holding them for five years. Instead, the NSA could access phone company records, if needed, with a court order.

Mr. Obama explained in the Netherlands, where he was attending a nuclear security summit.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I’m confident that it allows us to do what is necessary in order to deal with the dangers of a terrorist attack, but does so in a way that addresses some of the concerns that people have raised. And I’m looking forward to working with Congress to make sure that we go ahead and pass the enabling legislation quickly, so that we can get on with the business of effective law enforcement.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Phone companies hold the so-called metadata on calls for 18 months. We will explore the president’s proposal right after the news summary.

Rain and flash flood warnings have slowed the search effort in the Washington State mudslide. The toll in Saturday’s disaster now stands at 14, but officials warned today it’s likely to keep rising. They also said many of the 176 people listed as missing may actually be alive and well.

Rough weather at sea forced a daylong delay in the search for that missing Malaysian airliner. That came as authorities narrowed the search area in the Indian Ocean to a region the size of Alaska. They have declared that the plane crashed there, killing all 239 on board. But relatives of the Chinese victims angrily rejected that finding today.

Lucy Watson of Independent Television News reports from Beijing.

LUCY WATSON: It was a provocative start, as grieving families tired of waiting turned their anguish into action.

And their banners told a story, “Mum, it’s springtime now, come back,” it reads. Another: “I bought you a diamond ring. I wanted to put it on your finger.”

So they marched to the Malaysian Embassy in Beijing, angry for being told their relatives had died without the wreckage being found.

Why don’t you believe them, Stevie?

STEVIE WANG, Son of passenger: An aircraft was crashed. There might be something you could find. And there is nothing found. They are just still searching.

LUCY WATSON: This is such a rarity in Beijing, a public protest bringing the streets a standstill, but such is the discontent amongst these family members. They are allowed to do it.

But, corralled by security, they delivered a letter demanding answers, answers Malaysia is yet to provide.

DATUK SERI HISHAMMUDDIN HUSSEIN, Transport Minister, Malaysia: Although yesterday’s news was incredibly hard for the family members, as our prime minister said, it was released out of a commitment to openness and respect for the relatives.

LUCY WATSON: A statement that is accepted by some, the family of Rodney and Mary Burrows from Queensland.

JAYDEN BURROWS, Son of passengers: We’re heartbroken this stage of their life has been cut short. They worked hard to reap the rewards of their retirement, so they could travel and spend time with friends and family.

LUCY WATSON: But emotions in China will still run high with the search delayed by bad weather. The operation may have stalled, but their fight carries on.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The U.S. Supreme Court today heard a major case pitting claims of religious freedom against the new health care law. Two private companies, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, objected to being required to cover any birth control that works after conception. The family-owned firms argue that’s tantamount to abortion, and it violates their religious beliefs.

The arguments continued later outside the court.

DAVID CORTMAN, Counsel of Record, Conestoga Wood Specialties: This abortion pill mandate is an unprecedented intrusion in a private family business, where the government dictates at the cost of severe and crippling fines and penalties that people should violate their sincerely held religious beliefs when they decide to make a living.

CECILE RICHARDS, President, Planned Parenthood: What is at stake in this case is whether millions of women and their right to preventive care, including birth control, is trumped by a handful of CEOs who have their own personal opinions about birth control. Women have the right to make their own decisions about their health care and their birth control, and it’s not their boss’ decision.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We will have a full report, and talk with Marcia Coyle, who covers the court, later in the program.

The Ukrainian military has begun making its move in Crimea, exiting a region now firmly in Russian hands. Their departure comes amid rising fears of what Moscow’s next move might be.

With bags packed, about 65,000 Ukrainian soldiers and marines chose to leave Crimea behind today.

EVGENY TSEFRANETS, Ukrainian Marine Corps (through interpreter): We will continue to be loyal to Ukraine. We serve neither politicians nor the authorities. We serve the people who are around us and who value us. We don’t want anything else.

JUDY WOODRUFF: About 12,000 others decided to stay and take their chances in Russia’s newly annexed peninsula.

At a summit in the Netherlands, President Obama acknowledged Russia now controls Crimea, but he argued it’s really a sign of vulnerability.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Russia is a regional power that is threatening some of its immediate neighbors, not out of strength, but out of weakness. And, you know, we have considerable influence on our neighbors. We generally don’t need to invade them in order to have a strong, cooperative relationship with them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Ukraine’s Parliament today held its acting defense minister responsible for the loss of Crimea. It fired him and appointed a new one.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s military and NATO kept a close watch on the borderland between Russia and Ukraine.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN,
Secretary-General, NATO: We are very much concerned about the Russian military buildup along the borders of Ukraine. And all NATO allies can be assured of our determination to provide effective defense.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The head of Ukraine’s border service dismissed Moscow’s explanation that it’s all just war games.

VOLODYMYR LYTVYN, Border Guard Service, Ukraine (through interpreter): The buildup of the Russian Federation military force continues. At the beginning, they were building up for military exercises. Now, when the exercises are over, they are still at their locations, which we clearly see and know.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Back at The Hague, President Obama also voiced concerns that Russia might seize more of Ukraine. And he warned it would be a bad choice.

Our chief foreign affairs correspondent, Margaret Warner, is in Kiev. Later, we will have her interview today with Ukraine’s acting prime minister.

A new wave of attacks hit cities across Iraq today, leaving at least 29 people dead. The worst came around Baghdad, where gunmen killed eight soldiers at an army post, and, later, a suicide bomber rammed a tanker truck into a security checkpoint. Six soldiers died there. The surge of violence in Iraq began almost a year ago.

In Egypt, a court put another 683 suspected Islamists on trial for one day. Most were tried in absentia for murder and attempted murder in last year’s attacks on police stations. Defense lawyers boycotted, but the judge said he will issue verdicts in about a month. Yesterday, the same judge sentenced 528 suspected Islamist defendants to death for murdering a policeman. The mass trials were condemned by the U.N. Human Rights Office in Geneva.

RUPERT COLVILLE, Spokesman, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Defense lawyers are complaining about a whole range of things. They weren’t able to defend their clients properly. They weren’t able to present the briefs. Some of them weren’t even able to meet their clients. Some defendants apparently didn’t even have lawyers at all.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The U.S. State Department said today it would be unconscionable for Egypt to go ahead with the executions.

One of the country’s busiest seaports has now partially reopened three days after an oil spill. The Houston shipping channel closed to traffic Saturday when a barge and ship collided, spilling up to 170,000 gallons of heavy oil. Cleanup operations are still under way.

Wall Street bounced back from two losing sessions. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 91 points to close near 16,368. The Nasdaq rose almost eight points to close at 4,234. The S&P 500 also gained eight points to finish at 1,865.