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News Wrap: Relatives of missing Flight 370 passengers threaten hunger strike for answers

March 18, 2014 at 6:06 PM EST
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GWEN IFILL: The Obama administration has suspended Syrian diplomatic operations in the United States. Today’s announcement essentially closes the Syrian Embassy in Washington, plus consular offices in Troy, Mich., and Houston, Texas. Syrian diplomats and staff have until the end of the month to leave the country. The U.S. closed its embassy in Damascus in 2012.

Iran and six world powers resumed talks today on reining in Iran’s nuclear program, but with decidedly different goals. Iran’s foreign minister said the Vienna talks were merely an exchange of ideas. A top European

Union official said the focus was the nitty-gritty of a deal with the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, China, and Russia. Their hope is to reach a comprehensive agreement by late July.

In Afghanistan, at least 17 people died in a suicide bombing. The attacker blew himself up at a checkpoint in a northern province. More than two dozen people were wounded. It’s the latest in a series of attacks ahead of next month’s presidential election.

There was another twist today in the story of that missing Malaysian jetliner. But it brought investigators no closer to knowing what had happened. That, in turn, produced heated new demands for answers now from China.

We have this report narrated by Tom Clarke of Independent Television News.

TOM CLARKE: This morning, in a Beijing hotel, officials met with families of some of the 227 missing passengers on board flight MH370, and they watched their agony of waiting turn to anger.

Ms. Liu from Hebei province has lost her cousin. Her sign delivered a new message to investigators, “Hunger Strike in Protest. Tell the truth. Return our relatives.”

The families’ frustration stems from the fact that 11 days on, the official story has never stayed the same. Originally, the plane’s last known location was given as the South China Sea. But after initially denying it, the authorities confirmed military radar picked the plane up hundreds miles to the west in the Andaman Sea.

Early on, suggestions pilot and crew were not suspects. Now they’re amongst the prime suspects. More than a week after it supposedly disappeared without trace after takeoff, it emerged the plane in fact flew on for seven hours.

The search area now covers more than two million square nautical miles, an area larger than Australia. The control of information could be crucial, not just for families, but for the investigation itself.

DAVID GLEAVE, Aviation Safety Researcher: The question is, some of the information, is it being politically filtered? Are people not giving it out? Are people denying that it’s theirs because they are worried about losing their jobs and other things like that?

TOM CLARKE: Today, we learned Thai military radar saw the plane at the time it disappeared, but they waited 10 days to share the information.

And in the Maldives, eyewitnesses reported seeing a passenger jet fly flow over the island six hours after MH370 disappeared.

GWEN IFILL: The government of Thailand lifted a state of emergency today, now that violence in Bangkok has abated. The decree was imposed two months ago in the face of mass protests demanding the prime minister resign. Last month, a Thai court struck down several parts of the decree.

U.S. authorities say they have broken up a child pornography ring that preyed on hundreds of children in this country and overseas. They announced 14 arrests today. The ring allegedly enticed 250 boys, and a few girls, to post images that were used on a subscription-based Web site.

The secretary of homeland security, Jeh Johnson, says it’s one of the largest such operations ever.

JEH JOHNSON, Secretary of Homeland Security: The site had more than 27,000 members involved in producing and distributing child pornography on a massive scale. The majority of the victims of these heinous crimes were between the ages of 13 and 15, with two victims under the age of 3.

GWEN IFILL: The investigation is continuing, with more arrests expected.

Black firefighters in New York City have reached a settlement over racial discrimination. The announcement today said some 1,500 minority candidates will be eligible for back pay totaling $98 million. They took entrance exams that were found to be biased. The New York Fire Department is 85 percent white.

President Obama awarded the nation’s highest military honor today to two dozen Army veterans from World War II, Korea and Vietnam. A review found they’d been denied the Medal of Honor because of racial or religious prejudice. Only three of the soldiers are still alive. We will have more on their stories later in the program.

The White House is using a new report on sports injuries to boost enrollment for health care coverage. Nearly two million people sought emergency treatment for such injuries in 2012. White House spokesman Jay

Carney says it’s one more reason to sign up for coverage. So far, more than five million people have done so, but that’s still a million short of the revised goal.

JAY CARNEY, White House Press Secretary: We have a lot of people who signed up, and there are going to be more. I don’t — our goal has always been to get a substantial number, and for it to be demographically and geographically allocated in a way that allows the marketplaces to function effectively. We believe very strongly that we will achieve those goals.

GWEN IFILL: The enrollment deadline is March 31.

On Wall Street today, the Dow Jones industrial average gained nearly 89 points to close at 16,336. The Nasdaq rose 53 points to close at 4,333. And the Standard & Poor’s 500 added 13 points to finish at 1,872.