News Wrap: U.N. Workers Among Dead as Afghan Koran-Burning Protest Turns Violent
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HARI SREENIVASAN: At least 12 people, including U.N. staff, were killed in Afghanistan when a protest against a Koran burning spiraled out of control.
The protest started peacefully in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, near the U.N. office there. But some protesters grabbed weapons from the U.N. guards, storming the building and setting it on fire. Seven of those killed worked for the U.N. The Koran burning happened in Florida on March 20.
The American death toll in Afghanistan grew by six this week. The soldiers were from the same Army unit and were killed during fighting in the Northeast.
Rival protests filled the streets of Yemen’s capital city today. Hundreds of thousands of anti-government demonstrators gathered in Sanaa. It was the largest protest yet against President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Meanwhile, thousands of government supporters held their own rally outside the presidential palace. In an extraordinary move, many mosques were also closed, so that people could attend the protests. Friday is the Muslim day of prayer.
Thousands of people made calls for freedom in Syria today. The anti-government protests outside Damascus turned violent when security forces opened fire, killing at least three people. In Daraa, marchers gathered after Friday prayers to honor more than 70 people killed in the last two weeks.
A massive joint recovery effort is under way in Japan for the more than 16,000 tsunami victims still missing. Today, Japanese and American ships and helicopters searched the coastline for bodies that might have been swept out to sea nearly three weeks ago; 25,000 soldiers took part in the operation. At least 11,700 people have already been confirmed dead.
The end of a power struggle in Ivory Coast appeared closer today. Heavy fighting raged in Abidjan, even as the man clinging to power vowed to fight on, and the internationally recognized leader appeared to be on the verge of victory.
We have a report narrated by Andy Davies of Independent Television News.
ANDY DAVIES: Crawling between two walls, he makes for a door leading to a nearby block of flats. The cameraman asks him, who are they? Rebels, he replies. For two days now, the so-called rebel forces of a man the U.N. deems this country’s rightful head of state have been leading an assault on strategic targets in Abidjan.
This is Ivory Coast’s economic capital. It’s being described as the final push by the supporters of Alassane Ouattara, recognized internationally as the winner of last November’s presidential elections, but yet to unseat the man still clinging to the presidency, his old foe Laurent Gbagbo.
In four months of electoral standoff, attempts at mediation have come to nothing. Hundreds have been killed. Gbagbo remains, it’s thought, somewhere in Abidjan, surrounded by a hard-core Republican Guard. He still has control of the presidential palace.
Senior military figures appeared on national television, pledging allegiance to Alassane Ouattara, one appealing for an end to what he called the pointless massacre. There is a U.N. peacekeeping force here, so, too, a 1,000-strong garrison of French troops, France still Ivory Coast’s main trading partner. They were offering shelter to 500 foreign residents, they said.
Tonight, the country’s borders are closed. The African Union has called upon Laurent Gbagbo to hand over power immediately. A Gbagbo spokesman has said, reportedly, that surrender is out of the question.
HARI SREENIVASAN: In Washington, a State Department spokesman also urged Gbagbo to give up his bid to stay in power and read the writing on the wall.
President Obama signaled today a congressional compromise over the budget may be near. Democrats and Republicans have been discussing cuts in the range of $33 billion. But the president said the possibility of a government shutdown still loomed if Congress cannot reach agreement.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: They’re going to have to figure this out. Both sides are close, though. And we know that a compromise is within reach. And we also know that we can’t afford not to have Congress work out these budgets and make sure that we’re investing in the right things.
If these budget negotiations break down, we could end up having to shut down the government just at a time when the economy is starting to recover.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Speaker of the House John Boehner again said there is no agreement on a specific number for the cuts, but he vowed to fight for the largest one Republicans could get without shutting the government down.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio, speaker of the House: The goal here is to cut spending, because cutting spending reduces uncertainty. It will help our economy. And, frankly, that’s — I will be honest — if you shut the government down, it will end up costing more than you save, because you interrupt contracts. There are a lot of problems with the idea of shutting the government down. It is not the goal. The goal is to cut spending.
HARI SREENIVASAN: The federal government’s authority to spend money expires next Friday.
The number of deaths on U.S. highways has plunged to its lowest level since 1949. The Transportation Department announced today fewer than 33,000 people were killed in 2010, a 3 percent drop from the previous year. Officials credited several factors, including car safety improvements, increased seat belt use, and campaigns against drunk and distracted driving.
Those are some of the day’s major stories.