KWAME HOLMAN: Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi kept up his assault today on rebels in the east. Government and militia forces shelled areas around the key oil port of Ras Lanouf for a second day, killing at least five people.
Libyan state television showed Gadhafi loyalists celebrating in the city’s residential areas. But rebels still were holding the oil facilities. Gadhafi supporters also celebrated in Zawiyah, just outside Tripoli, as the government let journalists tour the newly recaptured town.
We have a report on Zawiyah from Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News.
JONATHAN RUGMAN: This event apparently timed for our benefit and for the camera of Libyan state television, which cheered them on, a propaganda victory, but, around them, the destruction of several days of battle.
Bunting hastily erected in the last 24 hours failed to hide the worst of the damage, for the rebellion here has been savagely quashed.
This mosque, which served as the rebels’ medical clinic, has been reduced to ruins. And fear is back on the streets. With state officials everywhere, nobody other than Gadhafi supporters dare speak openly about what happened here.
MAN: All the people free now. You can see this, all the people happy for Moammar Gadhafi.
JONATHAN RUGMAN: Right, but there were people who didn’t like Moammar Gadhafi.
MAN: Well, some people without Libya who are for Osama bin Laden.
JONATHAN RUGMAN: These were the graves of rebels who died fighting in what had been renamed Martyr’s Square. But look at those graves today. One man told us the bodies had been removed with bulldozers. If that’s true, that could be a war crime by Gadhafi’s supporters.
When I was here on Sunday, I counted the graves of 20 people buried right here who had been killed in the fighting. Now those graves have been completely eradicated. It has taken two weeks for Col. Gadhafi to subdue the rebellion here in Zawiyah, but subdue it, he has.
There were 20 people buried there.
MAN: I can’t see.
JONATHAN RUGMAN: I saw them. I saw the graves. Where have they gone?
MAN: There’s no people here, no people here.
JONATHAN RUGMAN: No people?
MAN: No people.
JONATHAN RUGMAN: Zawiyah is a government town now. The spirit of resistance has been forced deep underground, a town that gives every sign that the spark of rebellion has been extinguished.
KWAME HOLMAN: Security also was tight today inside Tripoli, preventing any protests after Friday prayers. And to the east, there were reports of new government airstrikes near two more towns.
In Washington, President Obama warned Libyan leaders again today that the world is watching. He defended his response so far, saying the pressure is increasing on the Gadhafi regime with new sanctions and a freeze on billions of dollars in assets.
The president said a no-fly zone over Libya remains a possibility.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We are slowly tightening the noose on Gadhafi. I have not taken any options off the table at this point. I think it is important to understand that we have moved about as swiftly as an international coalition has ever moved to impose sanctions on Gadhafi.
KWAME HOLMAN: The president played down remarks by his director of national intelligence at a congressional hearing yesterday. James Clapper said that, given Gadhafi’s military power, in the longer term, the regime will prevail. Mr. Obama said Clapper was giving a hardheaded assessment about military capability, not a statement of U.S. policy.
Police in Saudi Arabia apparently kept the lid on attempts at mass protests today. Hundreds of security officers were on the streets in Riyadh. Several hundred people did demonstrate in the heavily Shiite eastern part of the country.
In Yemen, record crowds, up to 40,000 people, turned out in Sanaa. They demanded again that President Saleh step down. Witnesses in southern Yemen reported police fired on protesters near Aden. At least nine were wounded.
And, in Bahrain, security forces used tear gas and rubber bullets to drive off crowds.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned NATO defense ministers today against a quick exit from Afghanistan. The first withdrawals are set to begin as early as July. Gates said the strategy should reflect conditions on the ground, and not political considerations. At the same time, the ministers, meeting in Brussels, endorsed a list of cities and provinces where Afghan forces will start taking control.
President Obama has opened the possibility of tapping the U.S. Strategic Oil Reserve. He offered that option today, with oil prices above $100 a barrel and gas prices heading toward $4 a gallon.
On Wall Street today, the Dow Jones industrial average gained more than 59 points to close at 12,044. The Nasdaq rose 14 points to close at 2,715. For the week, the Dow lost 1 percent. The Nasdaq fell 2.5 percent.
That bill stripping public employees in Wisconsin of most bargaining rights is now law. Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed the measure today. Republicans pushed it through Friday after a bitter battle with Democrats and public employee unions.
But Gov. Walker said today he has no doubt that support for the measure will grow.
GOV. SCOTT WALKER, R-Wis.: When people hear those facts, they see that, and they realize that this is really about protecting, not only middle-class jobs, avoiding layoffs that other states are doing, but also protecting middle-class taxpayers, this is about making the government run better, and this is, ultimately, truly about rewarding good employees who right now can’t be singled out as being extraordinary employees, I think, the more people get the facts and the facts are clear, the better off we’re going to be.
KWAME HOLMAN: The fight is not over yet. Democrats moved today to challenge the new law in court.
The U.S. House voted today to kill a program of mortgage assistance for homeowners. Republicans pushed through the measure in a drive to cut spending. The $1 billion program is aimed at helping people who’ve lost their jobs or fallen ill and can’t pay the mortgage. The bill faces shaky prospects in the Democratic-controlled Senate and a presidential veto threat.
Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is making a rapid recovery after being shot in the head, and she may be taking in a space launch. Her doctors in Houston confirmed that today. They said Giffords now can walk with assistance and speak in complete sentences. They also said she could be at Cape Canaveral next month when her astronaut husband, Mark Kelly, begins a space shuttle mission.
DR. DONG KIM, TIRR Memorial Hermann Hospital: We’re going to be assessing this over the next few weeks, but we think there’s a good possibility that she will be there.
DR. GERARD FRANCISCO, TIRR Memorial Hermann: We have to make sure that, surely, it will be safe for her to perform any activity. If the goal is for her to — to witness the launch in April, then our No. 1 concern is that it will be safe and appropriate for her to do that.
KWAME HOLMAN: The doctors said Giffords has been told about being shot at a political event in Tucson in January. They said she has no memory of the attack.
The National Football League labor talks failed to reach agreement today, and the players union formally decertified. That clears the way for individual players to file antitrust lawsuits against the league. In the meantime, owners could lock out the players in the NFL’s first work stoppage since 1987. The union’s contract with the NFL expires at midnight.
Those are some of the day’s major stories.