HARI SREENIVASAN: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton returned to work today after a month-long health scare. She came down with a stomach virus last month that left her severely dehydrated. Then, she fainted, struck her head and suffered a concussion, and days later, doctors discovered a blood clot in her head. On her return today, staffers presented her with a gag gift: a football helmet bearing the State Department seal.
The fighting in Syria raged throughout the day, just hours after President Bashar al-Assad proposed an end to the conflict on Sunday. In his first public speech in months, Assad offered a national reconciliation conference. But at the same time, he branded the rebels — quote — “murderous criminals” that the West shouldn’t support.
In Washington, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland dismissed the speech.
VICTORIA NULAND, State Department Spokeswoman: I don’t think there’s anything about the speech that changes the progression of work that we’re doing with the opposition. I think we have to continue to see how things develop on the ground. We have to continue to see how they develop as a force, but, as we have said, we do consider them the legitimate representatives now of the Syrian people.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Last week, the U.N. estimated that nearly 60,000 people have died in the Syrian civil war.
Prosecutors in India moved forward today in the case of five men accused in the gang rape and murder of a young woman in New Delhi. The suspects heard the charges against them in a preliminary hearing. Then they left court with their heads covered, to be escorted back to jail.
Meanwhile, protesters gathered outside the courtroom, insisting that lawyers refuse to represent the suspects. Despite the demands, two attorneys did come forward, offering to serve as defense counsel.
The man accused of carrying out a mass shooting at a Colorado movie theater also appeared in court. James Holmes allegedly killed 12 people and wounded dozens more last July. Outside the courtroom this morning, survivors and families of the dead lined up for a seat at the hearing. It’s expected to last all week, as the prosecution outlines its case. Inside, the 25-year-old Holmes showed no emotion as police testified about arresting him shortly after the attack.
Cancer deaths continued to decline between 2000 and 2009. Men were 1.8 percent less likely to die in 10 of 17 common types of cancers. Death rates for women fell 1.4 percent in 15 of 18 leading forms of the disease. Researchers do warn, however, that cancers associated with obesity are on the rise. The findings are from an annual report by government researchers and the American Cancer Society.
Crews in Australia searched for the missing today after wildfires ravaged the island state of Tasmania. Tinder-dry conditions fueled the fires that broke out Friday. Though there were no reports of deaths. Some 100 people were unaccounted for.
We have a report narrated by Sejal Karia of Independent Television News.
SEJAL KARIA, Independent Television News: In the small town of Murdunna
AARON MILLER: Real bad day. Real bad day.
SEJAL KARIA: … firefighter Aaron Miller captures the terrifying moments when the wildfires engulfed his home.
AARON MILLER: The house just completely burned to the ground.
SEJAL KARIA: Exhausted from battling the flames for two days, all he could do was watch. But it was when his brother Luke’s house caught fire, a home he helped build, that he was overcome with emotion.
AARON MILLER: I’m really sorry, Luke, but I couldn’t get down the hill. There was fire going everywhere. And I just couldn’t get down the road.
SEJAL KARIA: Help did eventually arrive, but too late. Theirs is just one tale of devastation on an island where hundreds have lost their homes and parts of their town.
The Australian prime minister, Julia Gillard, visited one of the worst-affected places, Dunalley, where the fires destroyed 65 buildings, including the local primary school.
JULIA GILLARD, Australian Prime Minister: The very fact I’m here is to send a message that the rest of the nation has got its eyes on Tasmania, and the rest of the nation needs thinking about the losses here and we will be supporting Tasmanians through.
SEJAL KARIA: There are fears for 100 people still missing, though no reports of deaths so far. And the wildfires still rage, while another week of intense heat looms.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Police have charged a 31-year-old man with starting one of the fires by leaving his campfire unattended.
In China, rare protests erupted against official censorship of one of the country’s most liberal newspapers. Hundreds of people gathered in Guangzhou outside the headquarters of Southern Weekly. They held handwritten signs and chrysanthemums as a sign of symbolic mourning for the death of press freedom. Last week, the newspaper tried to print a New Year’s letter calling for political reforms. Censors replaced it with a story lauding the ruling Communist Party.
Google’s chairman, Eric Schmidt, began a private visit to North Korea today. He arrived with a delegation being led by former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who’s been to North Korea numerous times in the last 20 years. Schmidt hopes to get a firsthand look at North Korea’s social media, and Richardson said they will also ask about a South Korean-born American citizen arrested in the North last November.
BILL RICHARDSON, Former Governor of New Mexico: We’re here as individual American citizens looking at the humanitarian situation. We’re going to ask about the American detainee who is here. We’re interested in the economic and political situation. We are concerned about the missile launches, and we’re concerned about the importance of dialogue.
HARI SREENIVASAN: North Korea’s most recent launch came less than a month ago. And because of that, the U.S. State Department had urged Schmidt and Richardson to cancel their trip.
Wall Street started the week by giving some ground. The Dow Jones industrial average lost nearly 51 points to close at 13384, the Nasdaq almost three points to close under 3099.