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News Wrap: Protests Continue in Bahrain, Yemen as Saudis Work to Avoid Unrest

February 23, 2011 at 12:00 AM EST
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HARI SREENIVASAN: New protests erupted in other Arab countries today, but there was also new violence by one regime that is under siege.

It was night in Yemen when pro-government forces set upon protesters camped in Sanaa, the capital. At least one person was killed and a dozen more were injured. But the protesters held their ground, and thousands more joined them.

Meanwhile, in Bahrain, crowds of Shiites marched to Pearl Square in Manama, after the country’s Sunni king met one of their key demands. He released at least 100 political prisoners. Several of them road in the back of a track and addressed the crowd of supporters.

And in nearby Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah returned from three months abroad for medical treatment and announced an array of pay raises and benefits, in a bid to keep his country calm.

Protesters and police clashed across Athens, Greece, today during a mass rally against austerity measures. Parts of the city were blanketed by smoke after police fired tear gas at protesters who threw rocks and firebombs. At least five people were hurt and 20 others were detained. It was all part of a general strike that ground public transportation to a halt and closed many services.

There were also protests in India against high food prices and unemployment. The demonstrations in New Delhi drew 40,000 people. Many of the participants came from trade unions. Food inflation in India hit a high of more than 18 percent last December.

In Ivory Coast, the battle for the presidency sparked some of the heaviest fighting since the disputed November elections. At least 20 people were killed, in addition to 10 others who died on Tuesday. Security forces loyal to President Laurent Gbagbo faced off with supporters of his challenger, Alassane Ouattara. He’s been recognized as the winner of the election, but Gbagbo has refused to step down.

The search for earthquake survivors in Christchurch, New Zealand, continued today, with 300 people still missing. The country’s second largest city was hit by a massive quake on Tuesday that killed at least 75 people.

We have a report narrated by Neil Connery of Independent Television News.

NEIL CONNERY: Inside the crushed and twisted floors of an office complex, a moment of hope for rescue teams, as a man is pulled to safety, then a woman who, remarkably, still has the strength to make her own way up a ladder.

These are the pancaked remains of the building they have just been pulled from. But the rescuers’ determined efforts soon pay off again.

MAN: Can you hear us?

NEIL CONNERY: Ann Bodkin, trapped under a desk for 25 hours, is delicately brought out.

(APPLAUSE)

NEIL CONNERY: Her husband is overwhelmed with joy.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: I’m very happy. My legs are shaking. My heart is going as though I have done a 10K run. But I couldn’t be happier right now.

BOB PARKER, mayor of Christchurch: In the midst of one what is, by and large, one of the bleakest days in the story of our city, the sun came out at the same movement as they removed Ann from that building.

NEIL CONNERY: But the darkness is never far away. The Canterbury Television building used to have six floors and included a language school. But the destruction is so great, they called off the search for survivors.

WOMAN: I heard from my friend that my — our school collapsed. And I saw on the telly that — and I heard that my friends, they didn’t come out.

NEIL CONNERY: This was the moment the 6.3-magnitude earthquake struck. Some of the worst-affected buildings were constructed in the 1950s and ’60s and were declared safe by engineers after previous earthquakes.

Rescuers have cordoned off the Hotel Grand Chancellor, which is threatening to collapse. With every hour that passes, hope of finding more survivors fades. The human cost of this country’s worst disaster in 80 years is slowly sinking in.

HARI SREENIVASAN: New Zealand’s prime minister, John Key, declared a national disaster. The cost of the damage was estimated at $12 billion.

On Wall Street today, stocks lost more ground over concerns about Libya. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped another 107 points, to close at 12,105. The Nasdaq fell 33 points to close just under 2,723. And the price of oil kept rising. It jumped nearly 3 percent to settle above $98 a barrel.

Ford is recalling nearly 150,000 of its popular F-150 pickup trucks from the 2005-2006 model years. The company said today air bags in some of the vehicles may suddenly deploy without warning. The company said there is a relatively low risk. But the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration cited 77 injuries and urged a much wider recall.

Former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel will be the next mayor of Chicago. He avoided a runoff by outpacing five other candidates in Tuesday’s election with 55 percent of the vote.

This morning, Emanuel greeted commuters at a Chicago train stop and spoke to reporters about the challenges confronting the city.

RAHM EMANUEL (D), Chicago Mayor-Elect: To me, the test of victory will be whether the children we see today are going to school thinking of their studies, rather than their safety, and whether their parents are thinking about their job, rather than struggling to try to figure out how to find a job. And that, to me, is the test of victory.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Emanuel will assume the job on May 16. He succeeds fellow Democrat Richard Daley, who is retiring after 22 years.

The Environmental Protection Agency plans to ease air pollution restrictions on industrial boilers, in a bid to make it cheaper to comply. The agency said today it will exempt smaller facilities from some rules, and give heavy industries more time to satisfy limits on mercury and other toxins. The new rules are projected to save businesses some $1.8 billion a year over the original proposal.

The threat to the world’s coral reefs is getting worse. A study by 25 research organizations released today found three-quarters of all reefs are now at risk. That’s up substantially from the last report in 1998. The study said fishing methods that use dynamite are breaking up coral, and warming seas are making oceans more acidic. That, in turn, makes it hard for corals to harden. All — at the current pace, all of the world’s reefs will be endangered by 2050.

Those are some of the day’s major stories.