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News Wrap: Cuban Government Promises to Release Political Prisoners

July 8, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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HARI SREENIVASAN: The U.S. today welcomed reports of political
prisoners being released in Cuba. The Cuban government promised the Roman
Catholic Church on Wednesday that it will free 52 dissidents over the next few
months. The agreement followed meetings between Cuban President Raul Castro,
the archbishop of Havana, and the Spanish foreign minister.

In Washington today, Secretary of State Clinton said it’s encouraging.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. secretary of state: I spoke late last
night with the Spanish foreign minister, Minister Moratinos. And we — we
welcome this. We think that’s a positive sign. It’s something that is overdue,
but nevertheless very welcome.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Most of the dissidents have been in jail since a
crackdown in 2003. This would be Cuba’s largest such release since Pope John
Paul visited the country in 1998.

Three men believed to have ties to al-Qaida have been arrested in Norway
and Germany. Norwegian and U.S. officials said they were plotting something
similar to foiled efforts to bomb the subways in New York City. The men were
allegedly trying to make powerful peroxide bombs. It wasn’t immediately clear
if they had selected a target.

Three international troops, one of them an American, were killed in
Afghanistan today. In addition, a senior Afghan police official was
assassinated. Meanwhile, in Iraq, bombings killed at least 15 people across
Baghdad on the final day of a Shiite holiday. Nearly 60 Iraqis were killed a
day earlier.

Marine Corps General James Mattis has been tapped to take over the U.S.
Central Command. Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced it today. Mattis
would replace General David Petraeus, who left to become the top commander in
Afghanistan. That’s after General Stanley McChrystal was fired for criticizing
administration leaders in Rolling Stone magazine.

Mattis was criticized in 2005 for saying — quote — “It’s fun to shoot
some people.”

But Gates played down that incident today.

ROBERT GATES, U.S. secretary of defense: That was five years ago.
Action — appropriate action was taken at the time. I think that the subsequent
five years have — have demonstrated that the lesson was learned. Obviously, in
the wake of the Rolling Stone interview, we discuss this kind of thing.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The nomination of Mattis is subject to Senate
confirmation.

Wall Street regained some more ground today. Stocks rose on news that
first-time claims for jobless benefits fell. The Dow Jones industrial average
added more than 120 points to close at 10139. The Nasdaq rose nearly 16 points
to close at 2175.

A federal judge in Boston has ruled that a federal ban on gay marriage
is unconstitutional. The judge said it interferes with a state’s right to
define marriage. The state of Massachusetts argued the law illegally barred
Medicaid and other federal benefits for gay married couples. The ruling is
subject to appeal.

An experimental plane powered only by solar energy completed 26 hours of
nonstop flying over Switzerland today. The Solar Impulse has the wingspan of a
Boeing 777. It used 12,000 solar cells to store up enough energy from the sunny
day to power it through the night. The single-seat plane touched down this
morning at an airfield outside Bern.

Bertrand Piccard co-founded the project. He said it’s clear a solar
plane can stay aloft indefinitely.

BERTRAND PICCARD, co-founder, Solar Impulse: After landing, we have
shown that, with renewable energies and energy savings, you can achieve
impossible things. So, there is a before and after in terms of what people have
to believe and understand about renewable energies.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Organizers next hope to cross the Atlantic and
eventually fly around the entire planet using nothing more than the sun’s
energy.

Those are some of the day’s major stories — now back to Jim.