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News Wrap: Libya Reportly Asked Oil Companies to Pay Lockerbie Fine

March 24, 2011 at 6:21 PM EDT
In other news Thursday, The New York Times reported that the Libyan government allegedly demanded that oil companies operating there pay its $1.5 billion fine in the Pan Am jetliner bombing over Scotland. Also, facing growing protests, the Syrian president pledged to consider lifting some restrictions on civil liberties.
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HARI SREENIVASAN: The government of Libya allegedly demanded in 2009 that oil companies pay its fine in the Pan Am bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland. The fine totaled $1.5 billion.

The New York Times reported today that 15 companies were warned of serious consequences for their oil leases if they did not pay. The companies were not named. The Times reported most refused to go along, but others agreed, including several based in the U.S.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad pledged today to consider lifting restrictions on political freedoms and civil liberties. The opposition rejected the offer, and up to 20,000 people marched in Daraa in the south. Hospital officials there said police killed at least 37 protesters on Wednesday. Media access to the marches was restricted, but there were reports of sporadic gunfire in the city.

In Japan, engineering crews labored again to stabilize that damaged nuclear plant. And officials appealed for an end to panic buying, driven by fears of radiation.

In Tokyo, workers handed out bottled water to families with infants, those most at risk from radiation in tap water. At the same time, new readings showed the levels were safe again.

REINA TAKAHASHI (through translator): I am not too worried. As TV reports say, it is not terribly risky. But, as I have small kids, I am grateful that the ward officials are distributing water like this.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Officials also advised people not to hoard water and other supplies, even as many store shelves were emptied. Tokyo’s governor was among those trying to convince people that the crisis was over, even publicly drinking a glass of tap water.

But many were still wary. At the city’s Meiji Shrine, some steered clear of the water normally used in a cleansing ritual. And this local preschool opted to stick with purified water for cooking and drinking.

Water warnings remained in force of two of Tokyo’s neighboring prefectures, Chiba and Saitama. Radiation levels also tested dangerously high in Hitachi, located about 70 miles south of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Two workers at the plant were hospitalized with radiation burns today after they stepped in contaminated water. But crews did get the lights on in the central control room for the first time since the earthquake and tsunami hit.

A powerful earthquake struck northeastern Myanmar today. It had a magnitude of 6.8, with several strong aftershocks. The quake hit near the border with northern Thailand and Laos. The region is known as the Golden Triangle and is a center of Asia’s opium production. The tremors were felt across much of Southeastern Asia. At least one person was killed.

A roadside bomb has killed two British soldiers fighting with the NATO force in Afghanistan. Officials said today they’d been due to return home to Britain in just six days. Meanwhile, in the Khost province, a NATO helicopter gunship accidentally killed two civilians while targeting suspected insurgents.

Portugal inched closer to financial collapse today, as political turmoil gripped the country. The prime minister resigned on Wednesday after Parliament rejected his latest austerity measures. He said opposition parties took away the government’s ability to continue running the country. There’s now a growing likelihood that Portugal will need a European bailout, as Greece and Ireland did last year.

On Wall Street, stocks rose on reports of stronger corporate earnings. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 84 points to close at 12,170. The Nasdaq rose 38 points to close at 2,736.

Those are some of the day’s major stories.