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Other News: Pakistani Army, Taliban Fighting Intensifies

May 7, 2009 at 6:10 PM EDT
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In other news, violent clashes between the Pakistani army and Taliban militants escalated in and around the Swat Valley as thousands of refugees fled the territory, and police in Afghanistan opened fire on a rally protesting recent U.S. air strikes that allegedly killed dozens of civilians.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In other news today, the growing battle between Pakistan’s army and the Taliban took on new urgency. Air strikes blasted targets in the Swat Valley, and the prime minister said the military has orders to eliminate the militants.

But as the fighting escalated, thousands of refugees passed burned-out military trucks as they fled toward makeshift camps. The U.N. estimated at least 45,000 Pakistanis have been displaced, and the government appealed for international aid.

U.S. Defense Secretary Gates was in neighboring Afghanistan. He dismissed talk of sending U.S. forces across the border.

ROBERT GATES, secretary of Defense: I believe that the reaction of the Pakistani army shows their recognition of the danger that exists in the western part of the country. And I do not anticipate at all that there will be American troops going into Pakistan from Afghanistan to deal with this problem.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Gates said the Taliban triggered the crisis when it overreached and moved close to Islamabad, the Pakistani capital. He also said he thinks there’s very little chance the Taliban would gain access to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.

In western Afghanistan, police opened fire on protesters claiming U.S. air strikes killed scores of civilians this week. The shooting started when the crowd tried to storm a government building in Farah. At least one person was wounded.

Local officials claimed nearly 150 people died in American bombing raids Monday night. The U.S. military has said that Taliban grenades may have killed some of the civilians.

Swine flu cases worldwide hit 2,100 today, and Mexico reported two more deaths. Still, Mexican high schools and universities cautiously reopened as planned. Officials said any students with flu-like symptoms were being sent home.

U.S. officials confirmed almost 900 cases to date and said the number would continue rising.

DR. RICHARD BESSER, acting director, Centers for Disease Control: As we look at the data so far, we are not seeing any sign of this petering out, and we would not expect that we would at this point. We are still in the upswing of what we call the epidemic curve. We plot the cases over time, and we’re on the upswing.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The World Health Organization said again today that the flu outbreak is not at pandemic levels, but it said, if there were a pandemic, up to 2 billion people worldwide could be infected.

Wall Street had a down day after a lackluster Treasury bond auction. It raised fresh concerns about the government’s ability to finance economic recovery plans.

The Dow Jones industrial average lost 102 points to close below 8,410. The Nasdaq fell nearly 43 points to close at 1,716.

General Motors steered closer to bankruptcy today after losing $6 billion in the first quarter. The auto giant reported that revenues plunged nearly 50 percent. As a result, it spent $10 billion more than it took in.

President Obama has asked Congress to cut $17 billion in federal spending the next fiscal year. He laid out his list in a White House announcement. It amounts to less than 0.5 percent of a budget totaling well over $3 trillion, but the president said it’s not “chump change.”

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Now, some of the cuts we’re putting forward today are more painful than others. Some are larger than others. In fact, a few of the programs we eliminate will produce less than a million dollars in savings. And in Washington, I guess that’s considered trivial; outside of Washington, that’s still considered a lot of money.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Still, Republicans dismissed the list of spending rescissions. Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire said what the president wants to take away is dwarfed by the spending he wants to add.

SEN. JUDD GREGG, R-N.H.: The core of the problem is that the government is being expanded dramatically even while these rescissions are occurring, that the rate of growth of the federal government as a result of expanded spending, which has been initiated by this administration in large part, will dwarf any savings that occur under this rescission proposal.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Half of the president’s proposed spending cuts would come in the defense budget. Many of the others have been rejected by Congress in the past.

In Southern California, a wildfire destroyed dozens of homes today and threatened hundreds more. More than 13,000 people were ordered to leave. The fire burned across two square miles in the hills near Santa Barbara; 1,400 firefighters worked to contain the flames, and more were being called in. The state declared an emergency in the face of continued hot, dry conditions.

One of baseball’s leading stars, Manny Ramirez, will sit out 50 games for a drug violation. The Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder was suspended by major league officials starting today. He blamed a medication that a doctor prescribed.

The news came as the U.S. Senate confirmed a new national drug czar. He is Gil Kerlikowske, currently the police chief in Seattle.

A one-time top Democratic fundraiser, Norman Hsu, has pleaded guilty to federal charges of fraud in New York. He admitted cheating investors out of at least $20 million in a huge Ponzi scheme. Hsu had raised millions of dollars for Democratic candidates, including then-Senator Hillary Clinton.