HARI SREENIVASAN: The U.S. stepped up a diplomatic assault on Iran today over an alleged plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to Washington.
Two Iranian men were indicted yesterday. U.S. officials said they’d been directed by elements in the Iranian government.
Today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned Iran in unusually strong terms.
SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: This plot, very fortunately disrupted by the excellent work of our law enforcement and intelligence professionals, was a flagrant violation of international and U.S. law and a dangerous escalation of the Iranian government’s longstanding use of political violence and sponsorship of terrorism.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Iran charged the U.S. allegations are just — quote — “a childish game.”
But the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on an Iranian airline that allegedly aids the special operations force linked to the plot. And the State Department issued a terror alert for Americans worldwide to be on their guard.
A Nigerian man pleaded guilty today to trying to blow up a U.S. airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day, 2009. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had tried to set off explosives hidden in his underwear. He delivered a five-minute statement in court today, and said the bomb was a blessed weapon to save the lives of innocent Muslims. Abdulmutallab is 25 years old. He faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison.
In Iraq, a string of bombings struck at police targets across Baghdad. At least 25 people were killed, and dozens more were wounded. In two of the attacks, suicide bombers tried to ram cars through police station gates. One was in a neighborhood that is a stronghold of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Access to it is tightly restricted by army checkpoints.
The government of Myanmar began releasing more than 6,300 prisoners today, after years of harsh military rule. It was the latest in a series of reforms in the country once known as Burma. At least 155 political detainees were included, but hundreds more remained behind bars.
We have a report narrated by John Sparks of Independent Television News.
JOHN SPARKS: It’s called the Insein Prison, Burma’s largest correctional facility. And, today, it played host to a very unusual event.
The gates were opened, and several hundred inmates passed through into the welcoming arms of friends and relatives.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
JOHN SPARKS: Many were elderly and frail, their release a reward for good conduct, said the government — included in their number, 120 political prisoners, dissidents who have dared to criticize the military-backed regimes that have long ruled this land.
NEWS ANCHOR: We interrupt our regular programing to bring you this breaking news.
JOHN SPARKS: The amnesty was announced with some fanfare, although this footage didn’t make it on to state television, Burma’s most popular comedian swamped by well-wishers after his release. He’s called Zarganar, or Tweezers in English. The government was a frequent target of his savage humor.
“Will you go back to entertainment?” asked one.
“Oh, of course,” says Zarganar.
He was banned from performing in 2006 and given a 35-year sentence for criticizing the regime’s relief efforts after a cyclone in 2008. Yet his release, along with a handful of other government critics, has been greeted warmly by some, including Burma’s de facto opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.
AUNG SAN SUU KYI, opposition leader (through translator): I welcome everyone has been released. Each one is priceless in value. Freedom of a person is priceless.
JOHN SPARKS: Burma has a new government led by this man, a former general called Thein Sein. He’s promised a series of democratic reforms, but human rights groups say today’s move is simply not good enough.
The crowds gathered in the afternoon sun to welcome their kin and welcome a change, a small chink of light in a country long covered in shadow.
HARI SREENIVASAN: The U.S. has said all political detainees must be released before it considers lifting political and economic sanctions against Myanmar.
The capital city of Pennsylvania, Harrisburg, filed for bankruptcy today. Despite the mayor’s objection that only she has the legal authority to take that step, the City Council approved the declaration last night. Harrisburg is more than $450 million in debt. The city’s filing said it faces imminent jeopardy from lawsuits over a debt-ridden trash incinerator.
A budget dispute in Topeka, Kan., took a dramatic turn Tuesday night. The City Council voted to repeal the local law against domestic violence. Officials hope to force surrounding Shawnee County to continue prosecuting misdemeanor cases of household violence inside the city. The county district attorney has said he will focus on felony cases instead, due to budget cuts.
On Wall Street today, stocks rose after the European Commission proposed new steps to bolster banks. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 102 points to close above 11,518. The Nasdaq rose more than 21 points to close at 2,604.
Sporadic outages in BlackBerry messaging and e-mail service spread to the United States and Canada today. And interruptions in service were in a third day in Europe, Asia, Latin America and Africa. Research In Motion, the Canadian company that makes BlackBerrys, said the outages began when a critical piece of its backup system failed.
Those are some of the day’s major stories.