News Wrap: Mid-Atlantic Hit With Late Winter Storm
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HARI SREENIVASAN: A powerful late winter storm that tracked all the way from Montana to the East Coast deposited a snowy, icy mess on the Mid-Atlantic today. In Washington, federal offices closed ahead of the storm, but the city and its immediate surroundings mostly got rain.
Farther out in Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland, as much as a foot of snow accumulated in some places. The snow that did fall was heavy and wet, snapping tree limbs and power lines and leaving up to 200,000 people without power.
The state of Arkansas will now have the most restrictive abortion law in the country. Republicans dominating the legislature there overrode a gubernatorial veto today. The new law includes a near-ban on abortions after the 12th week of pregnancy. It’s slated to take effect this summer, but a court challenge is certain.
A senator filibuster today stalled the confirmation of John Brennan to be director of the CIA. They focused on whether the government would ever use drone aircraft to attack Americans inside the U.S. Kentucky Republican Rand Paul cited a letter from Attorney General Eric Holder. It said drone strikes on U.S. soil might be considered in an extraordinary circumstance, such as 9/11.
Paul said he’s alarmed.
SEN. RAND PAUL, R-Ky.: You can’t take away someone’s life and liberty without due process or an indictment. So it should trouble every American. I can’t imagine that there wouldn’t be an American in our country that wouldn’t be troubled that we’re talking about killing noncombatants in America with drone strikes.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Several other Republicans joined the filibuster, as did Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden. He supports the Brennan nomination, but he cited civil liberties concerns over the drone issue.
Meanwhile, Attorney General Holder told a Senate hearing that the administration will work to allay any fears.
ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER, United States: I have heard you. The president has heard you and others who have raised this concern on both sides of the aisle. And so I think there is going to be a greater effort at the transparency. A number of steps are going to be taken. I expect you will hear the president speaking about this.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Later, Sen. Paul insisted the filibuster will go on until he gets a letter from President Obama promising not to use drones on American soil.
In Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai warned Afghan forces today to put an end to incidents of torture and other abuse. An Afghan government investigation has found widespread mistreatment at government-run prisons. An earlier U.N. investigation had reached similar conclusions. Karzai addressed the problem in a speech to the Afghan parliament today.
PRESIDENT HAMID KARZAI, Afghanistan: The investigation showed that during the arrests by the foreign forces and their local partners, who are our forces, people have been abused. This is a serious order that this should be stopped and cameras should be set up during interrogations to stop the abuse.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Until now, Karzai had placed the blame for prison abuse solely on NATO troops.
The exodus of refugees from Syria has now topped one million. The U.N. Refugee Agency reported the figure today. It also said 700,000 more Syrians have not yet registered. Meanwhile, Britain moved to give more help to the Syrian rebels, while heavy fighting continued in northern Syria.
We have a report narrated by Jonathan Miller of Independent Television News.
JONATHAN MILLER, Independent Television News: On the banks of the Euphrates River, a two day battle’s been hard-won today by Syria’s rebel fighters, the city of Raqqa now the first Syrian provincial capital out of regime control.
But this afternoon, the regime hit back, airstrikes targeting what the rebels had renamed Freedom Square. Freedom has come at a high price in Raqqa, it seems. Today, in the House of Commons, Britain’s foreign secretary announced what some say is a landmark shift in policy. The U.K., he said, would provide millions of pounds of non-lethal military equipment to Syria’s rebels.
The government does concede there are no easy answers, but Mr. Hague said that, faced with what he called increasingly extreme humanitarian suffering and diplomatic deadlock, Britain could not look the other way.
The Syrian exodus has gathered pace so dramatically that the one million milestone’s been reached four months before the U.N. Refugee Agency predicted it would. It’s taken just three months for the numbers to double. More than half the refugees are children. And only a dribble of the money the world pledged a month ago has been forthcoming.
This is how fast the Zaatari refugee camp has expanded in Jordan’s northern desert, 2,500 tents last September, 18,000 last month.
ANTONIO GUTERRES, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees: Yes, a milestone in human tragedy, one million refugees, but accelerating in a dramatic way, 3,000 a day in December, 5,000 a day in January, 8,000 a day in February.
JONATHAN MILLER: What the British government effectively said today was that helping the rebels was the best bet for stopping the conflict and the refugee exodus.
But two years into this civil war and what Syria’s rebels want is lethal assistance, arguing that failing to actually arm them is prolonging the conflict. A small group of Syrian rebels, one of more than 1,000 such groups that have sprung up just since last year, are tonight holding hostage 20 U.N. peacekeepers hostage, all Filipinos. They seized them on the Golan Heights. They won’t release them, they say, until the U.N. and the U.S. press Syrian forces to withdraw from a nearby town.
HARI SREENIVASAN: The U.N. Security Council demanded the peacekeepers be freed immediately, and without conditions. The Russian ambassador to the U.N. presiding over the council this month called the incident bizarre. He said the peacekeepers are unarmed, and that their mission has nothing to do with the civil war in Syria.
The government of Egypt confronted new uncertainty today when a court suspended upcoming parliamentary elections. They had been scheduled to begin in April. The court ruled that the Islamist-dominated parliament rushed through the law setting up the elections. It said the country’s supreme constitutional court needs time to review the statute. Advisers to President Mohammed Morsi said they plan to appeal the decision.
The European Union has fined Microsoft more than $700 million dollars for failing to provide a choice of Internet browsers. The software giant had pledged in 2009 to make those options available to users of its Windows operating system. Instead, Microsoft failed to comply in at least 15 million installations of Windows 7 in Europe between May 2011 and July 2012. The company blamed a technical error and agreed to pay the fine.
On Wall Street today, the Dow Jones industrial average gained 42 points to close at 14,296, reaching a record high for a second straight day. The Nasdaq fell a point to close at 3,222.
Those are some of the day’s major stories — now back to Judy.