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News Wrap: Afghan Gunman Kills at Least 2 Outside Defense Ministry

April 18, 2011 at 5:55 PM EST
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HARI SREENIVASAN: A gunman in an Afghan army uniform killed two people in Kabul today. It was the latest in a string of attacks that have claimed 16 lives since Friday.

The Kabul incident came inside the Afghan Defense Ministry. The Taliban said the gunman was a militant who was also an army officer. On Saturday, another Taliban agent, also wearing an Afghan army uniform, blew himself up, killing five American troops and four Afghan soldiers. The U.S. is on a timetable to begin withdrawing forces in July.

In Iraq, as many as nine people were killed when suicide bombers set off two car bombs in Baghdad. The attack happened right outside the heavily fortified Green Zone near a security checkpoint. The targets appeared to be government motorcades on the road from the airport. In the aftermath, soldiers inspected the blast scene littered with charred debris. At least 23 other people were wounded in the attacks.

Approximately 5,000 people occupied a major city square in Syria today. They insisted they will not leave until President Bashar Assad steps down, and they defied warnings from authorities. The gathering in the city of Homs followed a funeral procession for eight people killed on Sunday in clashes with police.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported the State Department has secretly funded Syrian opposition groups, but a spokesman played down the report.

MARK TONER, State Department spokesman: We are not working to undermine that government. What we are trying to do in Syria, through our civil society support, is to build the kind of democratic institutions, frankly, that we’re trying to do in countries around the globe.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The Post report cited diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks. The cables say the U.S. has funneled up to $6 million to Syrian exiles to finance a satellite TV channel plus activities inside Syria.

The head of the Federal Aviation Administration defended his agency’s overall record today after issuing new rules to fight fatigue. Randy Babbitt said he is infuriated by air traffic controllers falling asleep at work, but he maintained 99.9 percent of them are doing the job right.

Babbitt spoke in Atlanta, along with Paul Rinaldi, head of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. Rinaldi said overall the system works.

PAUL RINALDI, National Air Traffic Controllers Association: At the end of the day, we run almost a flawless system. Over two million passengers are moved through the national airspace system everyday, and not even a bleep happens, but we have a couple of situations, and the ball is dropped, and all of a sudden, we become a butt end of the joke. We don’t deserve it. We don’t like it. And we will stand together and fix it.

HARI SREENIVASAN: On Sunday, the FAA issued updated work rules that give controllers an extra hour of rest between shifts.

Radiation levels at Japan’s Daiichi nuclear power plant are still too high for repair crews to enter. A pair of small robots reported the readings today. They were sent inside two of the facility’s reactor buildings. The government insisted that despite the radiation in units one and three, plans are still on track to stabilize the plant by year’s end. Separately, officials said radioactivity has also spiked at unit two, indicating possible damage to spent fuel rods.

This was deadline day for filing income taxes across America, and the first family released their returns. President and Mrs. Obama reported an income of more than $1.7 million for last year. Much of that was from the sale of the president’s books. The Obamas paid federal taxes of more than $450,000. They also reported charitable donations of $245,000.

Those are some of the day’s major stories.