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News Wrap: Syrian Security Forces, Protesters Clash in Several Cities

March 28, 2011 at 6:19 PM EDT
In other news Monday, security forces in Syria confronted protesters and used tear gas to disperse crowds. About 4,000 people demonstrated in Daraa, where protests began a week ago. In Yemen, an explosion at a weapons factory killed at least 78 people.
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HARI SREENIVASAN: Unrest gripped Syria again today, with security forces confronting new protests. The troops used tear gas and fired into the air to disperse crowds. Some 4,000 people demonstrated in Daraa, where the protests began more than a week ago. There was also more trouble in the port city of Latakia, as armed groups for and against the government faced off. Officials said Syrian President Bashar Assad could address the nation as early as Tuesday to ease a nearly 50-year state of emergency.

In Yemen, a powerful explosion at a weapons factory killed at least 78 people. It happened in the Abyan Province in the south. The blast appeared to be accidental, but it came one day after Islamic militants took over the factory and the nearby town of Jaar. Government forces had pulled back as protests spread. And there were more protests today in the capital city, Sanaa. Thousands of demonstrators again demanded that President Ali Abdullah Saleh step down.

Some 250 people have been detained since a crackdown in Bahrain this month, and more than 40 are missing. Shiite opposition leaders reported those figures today, and said they have doubled since last week. The kingdom’s Sunni rulers dismissed appeals for an international human rights investigation.

And police insisted their tight control on the streets is essential.

LT. COL. ADIL AL MEHZA, Bahrain police (through translator): For the person who doesn’t violate any law, the checkpoints do not concern him. Quite the opposite — it reassures their security. It is more safety on the road. As the saying goes, if you don’t steal, you won’t fear. As long as you don’t commit any crime, you will be passed through the checkpoint with a good heart.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Bahrain is now under martial law, and roughly 1,000 troops from Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-led states are deployed in the country.

Taliban suicide bombers attacked a construction company in Afghanistan today. They shot their way into a compound, blew up a truck loaded with explosives and killed 23 people. Nearly 60 others were wounded. And in Pakistan, militants killed 11 government soldiers in an ambush near the Afghan border.

A Saudi Arabian man has pleaded not guilty in Texas to charges that he plotted to blow up targets in Texas and New York City. Khalid Aldawsari was arraigned in federal court in Lubbock today. He’d been a college student there when he was arrested in February. Agents traced online purchases of explosive chemicals and found a makeshift lab in his apartment. If convicted, Aldawsari faces a possible life sentence. The trial is set for May 2.

In economic news, consumer spending rose last month, but the Commerce Department said much of the gain went to pay sharply higher gasoline prices.

And, on Wall Street, stocks began the week on a losing note. The Dow Jones industrial average lost more than 22 points to close below 12,198. The Nasdaq fell 12 points to close at 2,730.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel played down a stinging election defeat today tied to the nuclear scare in Japan. On Sunday, the anti-nuclear Greens won power in a state where Merkel’s Christian Democrats had governed since 1958. Voters’ fears over what happened in Japan was the dominant issue. Before the election, Merkel had ordered a review of nuclear power in Germany. She said today the review will go forward.

Those are some of the day’s major stories.