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News Wrap: Syrian President Refuses to Lift Decades-Old State of Emergency

March 30, 2011 at 6:22 PM EDT

HARI SREENIVASAN: The president of Syria today offered no concessions to a wave of dissent against his authoritarian rule. Bashar Assad arrived in Parliament for the first speech since protests began nearly two weeks ago. Assad was widely expected to lift a decades-old emergency law. Instead, he blamed the turmoil on conspirators and vowed to defeat those who were behind it.

BASHAR AL-ASSAD, president of Syria (through translator): I speak to you today at very exceptional times. The events and developments seem to be testing our unity, the test that keeps repeating itself every now and then because of continued conspiracies over the homeland. But our will and unity and God’s will continue to succeed in confronting these conspiracies, which adds to our immunity and strength.

HARI SREENIVASAN: After the televised speech, hundreds of protesters took to the streets in the port city of Latakia, shouting, “Freedom.” And there were some reports that troops opened fire at one of the protests.

Huge crowds of protesters gathered across Yemen to demand President Ali Abdullah Saleh step down. The anti-government demonstrators packed streets in Sanaa, Saada and Marib. Opposition leaders said Saleh’s insistence at staying in power constitutes a grave danger to Yemen.

In Bahrain, the Shiite opposition demanded military forces from neighboring Saudi Arabia leave the kingdom immediately. The Sunni king asked them for help after majority Shiites staged protests calling for more freedom.

Seawater near Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant measured the highest radiation levels since the tsunami crippled the plant nearly three weeks ago. Seawater samples 300 yards away from the plant contained more than 3,300 times the legal limit for radioactive iodine. A nuclear official in Tokyo voiced concern, but said it doesn’t pose an immediate threat to public health.

HIDEHIKO NISHIYAMA, Japanese Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (through translator): The readings are now higher, so we need to be vigilant, and we have to make efforts to prevent any further leakage into the sea. But these numbers are in the same order of four digits as previous readings.

As I have said before, and have confirmed with the Japan Atomic Energy Commission, the area within 20 kilometers of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor has been evacuated, and there is no fishing going on there. Therefore, it is unlikely to affect residents in the vicinity.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Also today, officials from Tokyo Electric Power Company publicly acknowledged for the first time that four of the plant’s six reactors will be totally written off. The cost of decommissioning just one reactor runs upwards of $500 million.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned a group of U.S. soldiers charged in the murders of three Afghan civilians. It marked the first time Karzai publicly addressed the case since graphic photos of the troops posing with dead Afghans were published in “Der Spiegel” and “Rolling Stone” magazine.

Karzai said the soldiers took drugs and: “They killed our youth for entertainment. They killed our elders for entertainment.”

The first of the five soldiers to be court-martialed pleaded guilty to murder last week. He was sentenced to 24 years in prison.

Fighters who support the internationally recognized leader of the Ivory Coast seized control of the capital city today. The opposition forces staged a dramatic advance on Yamoussoukro from all sides this week, before capturing it tonight. The commercial capital, Abidjan, is likely the next battleground. President Laurent Gbagbo has refused to step down, despite losing to Alassane Ouattara last fall.

Late today, the United Nations Security Council voted to impose new sanctions on Gbagbo and called for an immediate end to the violence in the Ivory Coast.

The Food and Drug Administration convened a panel today to examine whether food dyes cause hyperactivity in children. The agency has long rejected any clear link, but a new report said the dyes could aggravate existing behavioral issues. The two-day meeting comes after calls by a consumer watchdog group to ban eight different dyes. The panel is more likely to recommend tighter regulations, better labeling, or further study.

Stocks rallied for a second straight day on Wall Street. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 71 points to close at 12,350. The Nasdaq rose nearly 20 points to close above 2,776.

Those are some of the day’s major stories.