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News Wrap: Syria Lifts Emergency Law as Forces Open Fire on Protesters

April 19, 2011 at 6:19 PM EDT
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HARI SREENIVASAN: Wall Street was back on positive footing today. Stocks recouped some of Monday’s losses that were caused by worries over U.S. government debt.

The Dow Jones industrial average gained 65 points, to close at 12,266. The Nasdaq rose nine points to close just under 2,745.

The Syrian government abolished nearly 50 years of emergency rule today, but it came with a warning to end all protests now. There was also new violence in the city of Homs, where security forces routed demonstrators at a sit-in.

We have a report narrated by John Sparks of Independent Television News.

JOHN SPARKS: Anti-government protesters take cover in a grassy verge as bullets whistle overhead. We’re in Homs, Syria’s third-largest city. A demonstration on Sunday afternoon was broken up by President Assad’s militia, they say. Seventeen people were reported killed.

There’s a break in the firing, and they run for safety. The protesters scattered, but they hadn’t gone away. Yesterday in Homs, they gathered to bury the dead. The coffins were carried to the mosque. Protesters shouted with rage.

These demonstrations began five weeks ago in a southern border town, but they have spread nationwide. Clock Square in Homs has been renamed as Tahrir Square, after the protests in Egypt.

President Assad has responded with limited concessions. The country’s draconian emergency law was lifted today, although protesters still need permission to gather. Such pronouncements haven’t appeased the people of Homs, this the scene last night. The protesters were back, with their banners and speeches.

Within hours, however, the majority had fled. Others sought shelter wherever they could. The government’s militia had re-emerged, guns blazing through Homs’ newly named Tahrir Square. We were told another 12 had been killed overnight. The city looked deserted today, but the cycle of protests, government crackdowns and funerals is set to continue.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Syria’s official news agency reported today that a new law allows the right to peaceful protests, so long as the Interior Ministry approves.

In Libya, there was more heavy fighting in Misrata, as rebels fought with the Libyan troops in the city center. Moammar Gadhafi’s forces have besieged Misrata for nearly two months. And rebel leaders pleaded today for NATO to do more.

SULIMAN FORTEA, National Transition Council, Libya: NATO’s job is protecting civilians. We’re not asking for invading or going on a war, a front line for — into the cities, no, just protecting civilians. And that is what could be done by any — any — any way or anyhow, either troops or latest technology and latest weapons.

HARI SREENIVASAN: British airstrikes took aim today at Gadhafi’s communication centers, and the British government announced it is sending a dozen senior military advisers to assist the rebels.

At the same time, a top NATO official acknowledged it has been hard to stop Gadhafi’s forces by using only airpower.

The death toll has reached 33 in post-election rioting across northern Nigeria. New violence erupted Monday after incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian, defeated his Muslim opponent. The towns of Kaduna and Kano were engulfed by Muslim riots and Christian reprisals. Burned corpses with machete wounds lined the roads today in Africa’s most populous nation.

Raul Castro was named the new leader of Cuba’s Communist Party today. He formally took over the post from his older brother, Fidel, who ruled the island nation from 1959 to 2006. The elder Castro made a surprise appearance today at the party congress, looking frail and unsteady. He received a standing ovation from the delegates, with some in tears.

A plane carrying first lady Michelle Obama had to abort its landing outside Washington on Monday after an air-traffic controller made a mistake. The Washington Post reported today the controller let the first lady’s Boeing 737 and a military cargo plane get too close as they neared Andrews Air Force Base. Mrs. Obama’s plane was waved off and ended up landing on its second approach. It was the latest in a series of events involving controllers in recent days.

There’s new evidence that Alzheimer’s disease could be diagnosed years before full-blown symptoms appear. The National Institute on Aging and the Alzheimer’s Association issued new guidelines today, the first update in nearly 30 years. Recent findings have shown Alzheimer’s begins to break down parts of the brain much earlier than previously believed. New scans and blood tests are in the works to detect those changes, but for now, they are still experimental.

Women’s marathon legend Grete Waitz died today in her native Norway after a six-year battle with cancer. Over the course of her career, Waitz won the New York City Marathon nine times. And she set a world record in her very first attempt at the distance then broke it twice more. She also took home the silver medal at the first women’s Olympic marathon in 1984, held in Los Angeles. Grete Waitz was 57 years old.

Those are some of the day’s major stories.