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News Wrap: Gadhafi’s Forces Strike Rebel-Held Cities in East, West

March 14, 2011 at 4:51 PM EDT
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KWAME HOLMAN: Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi pressed his assault on rebel-held towns today. In the east, government planes carried out new airstrikes on Ajdabiya, and the larger city of Benghazi lay ahead.

We have a report from Bill Neely of Independent Television News.

BILL NEELY: Gadhafi’s men are on the road to Benghazi, and the rebels are on the run. Just days ago, and for 100 miles around, this was in rebel hands — not anymore.

Gadhafi state television has been showing off his latest prize, the oil town of Brega. This complex provides electricity to the rebel capital, Benghazi. Gadhafi could now cut its power.

His men simply outgunned the rebels, retaking the oil towns with artillery, tanks and planes, capturing 150 miles in days. The rebels say their retreat is strategic, and they had simply advanced too far too fast.

The hospital at Ras Lanuf was abandoned quickly. This is it just five days ago, filled with injured rebel fighters and with their dreams of freedom and of toppling Gadhafi. The dreams, like the fighters, are gone. The hospital is deserted.

Gadhafi’s army spokesman says the rebels are al-Qaida terrorists. I asked him if he’s now planning to attack Benghazi.

MILAD HUSSEIN, Libyan army spokesman (through translator): To deal with them, you don’t need to really have full-scale military action.

BILL NEELY: But that’s exactly what Gadhafi does. This is Zawiyah just hours after it was taken. This is what Benghazi can expect, Gadhafi’s onslaught ferocious, one of his crack brigades in the vanguard, dozens of troops sacrificed, dozens of civilians reported killed by indiscriminate fire.

This town was bombarded for seven straight days by tanks, by artillery, by the very best Gadhafi could throw at it. And you can see burnt-out cars, rocket-propelled grenade and bullet holes in the buildings here.

Zawiyah was crushed ruthlessly. Gadhafi’s men have Benghazi in their sights. The revolution is on its knees.

KWAME HOLMAN: Government forces also used tanks to recapture the small western town of Zuwarah today. And at the U.N., the Security Council discussed imposing a no-fly zone, but reached no consensus.

In Afghanistan, a suicide bombing killed 35 people today at a military recruiting center. Afghan officials said the bomber targeted a building in Kunduz Province. He blew himself up in the crowd outside. The Taliban claimed responsibility. The group attacked the same recruiting site last December.

Security forces also were targeted in eastern Iraq. At least 10 Iraqi soldiers died when a bomber detonated a car laden with explosives. It happened outside the headquarters of an army intelligence battalion northeast of Baghdad. At least 30 people were wounded in the bombing.

The high court in Lahore, Pakistan, delayed a ruling today on whether an American jailed there has diplomatic immunity. Raymond Davis is accused of killing two Pakistanis. He was working for the CIA at the time. The immunity issue now goes to the trial court, set to convene on Wednesday.

The U.S. State Department has lost its chief spokesman over the WikiLeaks case. P.J. Crowley resigned Sunday after saying the military’s treatment of Army PFC Bradley Manning was ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid. Manning is accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of documents. He’s being held in solitary confinement. And at night, he was being stripped and made to wear a suicide-proof smock.

The events in Japan will not change U.S. plans for more nuclear energy. A White House spokesman said today it remains part of the president’s overall energy plan. But several European countries began reassessing. Switzerland suspended plans to replace old nuclear plants with new ones, and Germany delayed a decision on extending the life of its nuclear plants.

GUIDO WESTERWELLE, German foreign minister (through translator): We want to form an independent investigating commission with the task of undertaking a new risk analysis of all German nuclear power plants, this based on currently available information about events in Japan, especially looking at the security of the cooling systems.

KWAME HOLMAN: At least 195 nuclear power plants are operating throughout Europe. Of 19 plants under construction in Europe and Asia, most are being built in Russia.

On Wall Street today, stocks fell amid concerns over the economic effects of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 51 points to close at 11,993. The Nasdaq fell 14 points to close at 2,701.

President Obama asked Congress today to revamp the nation’s main education law before the new school year begins in September. Republicans and Democrats agree that No Child Left Behind needs revising, but they disagree on the federal role in education. The president said he wants changes to support innovation and target more funding on schools where students are doing poorly.

Those are some of the day’s major stories.