New Wrap: U.S. Warns Iran Against Blocking Passage for Oil Tankers
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HARI SREENIVASAN: The U.S. military warned Iran today against trying to choke off oil traffic from the Persian Gulf. A Pentagon spokesman said the U.S. would not tolerate it.
Iran has threatened this week to close the Strait of Hormuz if the West embargoes Iranian oil. One-sixth of the world’s oil flows through the passage linking the Gulf to the Arabian Sea. Iran’s navy chief said it would be very easy for his forces to block the strait. And the Iranian navy continued drills in the area today.
Wall Street had a down day, amid new fears about a credit crunch in Europe. Stocks fell after the European Central Bank reported record overnight deposits. It was new evidence that banks across Europe would rather park their money, even at very low interest rates, instead of lending to each other. In response, the Dow Jones industrial average lost nearly 140 points to close at 12,151. The Nasdaq fell 35 points to close below 2,590.
In the Republican presidential campaign, the latest poll reshuffled the standings in Iowa yet again with the caucuses set for Tuesday. The CNN/TIME survey found Mitt Romney leading now with 25 percent. Texas Congressman Ron Paul had 22 percent after a recent surge. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum polled 16 percent, three times what he had a month ago. And Newt Gingrich slumped nearly 20 points in recent weeks to 14 percent.
New turmoil erupted across Syria today, as the presence of Arab League peace monitors failed to stop the violence. Activists reported security forces killed at least six people in the city of Hama, and there was word of new shootings in Homs as well.
We have a report narrated by Cordelia Lynch of Independent Television News.
CORDELIA LYNCH: Gunfire on the streets of Hama as the army shoots at demonstrators. “Freedom will be forever,” they cry, as tear gas is thrown at them.
Close by, in Homs, the monitors sent to observe were forced to dodge bullets. Shortly after, their leader stated nothing frightening was happening there — as they step outside, a clear view of the tanks so publicly withdrawn. Yet, the protesters keen to peacefully demonstrate have little faith in the ability of the observers.
MAN (through translator): We could not go to the square to demonstrate because the army was shooting at us. Where are the monitors? In my opinion, it’s better for them to pack their bags and go back home.
CORDELIA LYNCH: But they may be leaving the beginnings of a civil war.
These images, which we cannot yet verify, appear to show for the first time the Free Syrian Army ambushing the security forces. It happened in the south in Daraa, the cradle of the revolution.
CORDELIA LYNCH: While most eyes are on the north, this was Daraa today. It’s where the Arab League delegation is headed tomorrow.
In a gesture of goodwill, state-run Syrian TV announced the release of 755 prisoners detained in the government crackdown. But the rebels remain defiant.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Amnesty International estimated that up to 15,000 Syrians remain in detention. Human Rights Watch said hundreds of them are hidden at military sites, where Arab League observers will not see them.
The Supreme Court of Nigeria ruled today that President Goodluck Jonathan’s election victory will stand. His closest challenger had demanded a recount of last April’s vote in the oil-rich African state. Also today, authorities said attackers hurling homemade bombs wounded seven children at an Islamic school in southern Nigeria yesterday. That followed Christmas Day bombings on Christian churches that killed at least 39 people.
Those are some of the day’s major stories.